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One Year

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The darkness was suffocating. It stretched endlessly in every direction, churning, invisible, yet like a thousand hands reaching out with despair. The air was thin. It was hard to breathe. There were no sounds here, only silence. The air was heavy and bore down like an agonizing weight. The darkness was suffocating.


"SNAKE!"

An eruption of fire. An arm rose to shield eyes from the heat as it tore open the darkness. In it's place now was an endless corridor. The worn-out flooring was damp and laden with puddles, dripping from rusted pipes along the ceiling. The concrete walls were a dull, dilapidated gray and littered with chipped paint and bullet holes. A man stood in the center, observing the sullen surroundings.


"COME OUT AND FIGHT ME, SNAKE!"


More flames roared. The man shielded his face again and stepped back. The walls and ceiling caught fire. The flames spread quickly, circling around him, trapping him in the center.


The inferno parted and a dark figure came forth. It appeared to be human in shape but its limbs were horribly mangled. The military fatigues it wore were burned and shredded. Every inch of the creature's flesh was charred black and smoking. Half of it's face was seared down to the bone, the remaining left eye shined with an ethereal light that pierced through him.


"SSNAAAKE!" It hissed in a demonic guttural growl. The creature slowly hobbled towards him.


"No...Stay back!" He begged.


The creature lifted a clawed hand to him. "ONLY...ONE..." It sputtered, "ONLY ONE...WILL LEAVE HERE!"


The man began to withdraw. The flames flared intensely. "Get away!" He pleaded, but the creature came closer still.


He shoved his hands into the many pockets of his own fatigues, looking for some kind, any kind, of a weapon to fend it off. Feeling something in his pants pocket, he closed his fist around the metal and drew it out in front of him. To his horror, it was not a gun or a knife like he'd hoped, but a small silver lighter.


"YOU WOULD POINT A WEAPON?"

Another voiced came from behind. A hand shot out and grabbed his wrist. The man whipped his head around to come face to face with a second demonic creature.


"AREN'T WE YOUR FAMILY?" It screeched.


He tore himself from the creatures' grasp, almost stumbling over his own boots. It howled with laughter. The creature's eyes glowed with the same ethereal light as the other, but this one's body was different. A layer of frost and ice coated the exposed flesh of it's arms and torso. Clumps of snow clung to the torn pants and lightly colored, knotted hair that dangled in the monster's face.


"IT'S NOT OVER!" The creature spoke with a shrill voice. "IT'LL NEVER BE OVER, SNAKE!"


A cold wind bit his face. A heavy blizzard blew in from behind the second creature. It extinguished only parts the blaze still burning behind him. The second beast too lifted a mangled hand for him and began to wade forward through the piling snow.


"Don't come any closer!" The man changed direction, his gaze switching in between the two creatures approaching him. His back hit a wall. They drew closer still. He held his hands out in front of him in a helpless effort to keep them away. There was nowhere to run.


"Stop! Leave me alone!" He cried again.


"SSNAAAAAAKE!" They both shrieked.


Something wrapped around his throat and lifted him off the ground. He cried out, clawing at the thing around his neck, but his fingernails only broke and tore against the concrete surface. It was that wall that grabbed him.


"YOU CAN'T ESCAPE FROM US."
A third voice. He could feel the concrete morph into a smooth metal, the entire wall changed into the same material. He managed to painfully crane his neck to look behind him. A third beast stared back, forming from the shining black metal. It's scraggly white hair dripped with a dark mixture that reeked of pure crude oil. Only the left half of its aged face formed from the mass.


"WE ARE YOUR FATE. YOUR LEGACY. AND YOU ARE OURS!" It said.


Arms came forth from the churning metal and hugged him in a vice grip, one hand smothered his face, coated with the same foul liquid. He couldn't hold his fear in any more, he started screaming.


Everything went black. The compound, the raging fire, the whirling snow, it all faded back into the darkness. He tore at the slimy hand on his face and kicked wildly at the other two beasts who caught his legs.


"SNAKE!"


"SNAKE!"

He tried his hardest to squirm free. The creatures clawed and tore at his body.

"S-stop!"

"SNAKE!"

Buzz...buzz...

His vision faded. He was losing consciousness.

"Please..."

...buZZ... BUZZ!

The ice creature laughed maniacally while the burning one howled in agony. He could no longer fight them off. His body went limp, the lighter falling from his fingers. With the last of his fading vision he saw in the distance a mysterious figure. It had no face and wore a simple suit. It stood there, watching. The third creature was emitting a buzzing noise that grew louder and louder.

BUZZ! BUZZ! BUZZ! BUZZ!

He jerked awake. The alarm clock was blaring. The man glanced around his room, looking for the mangled creatures, but they were nowhere to be seen. Neither was the corridor or the darkness. Soft sunlight shone through the curtains of his room. He wiped cold sweat from his face and breathed out to calm himself.

It was only another nightmare.

A whimpering noise came from beside him. The man had become aware of another weight on his bed. A wet, slobbery tongue swiped his face. He grunted, wiping saliva from the side of his mouth. A dog whined softly before butting it's wet nose to his face, continuing to lick his cheek.


"Chief...! Come on..." He sputtered. He twisted his head away from the animal in vain. The husky named Chief whined and pawed at him. He finally broke a small smile and scratched behind the dog's ears. "It's OK girl, I'm alright."


Chief leaned on him, her curly tail thumping on the bed. Her big bi-colored eyes stared up at him. He was still scratching behind the dog's ears when it became apparent to him that the alarm clock was still buzzing. He looked at it on the bedside table. The time flashed 8:07 AM. He grumbled shut it off.


He playfully squished the sides of the dog's face. "Come on girl, let's get some breakfast." Chief huffed excitedly and threw herself on him, twisting around in his lap for belly rubs. He chuckled, giving her one last belly rub before pushing her and the blankets off him. He got out of bed, stretching out his legs and back. He thudded across the carpet as he headed to the bathroom.


After washing his hands, the man observed himself in the mirror. His brown hair was messy and frazzled, as it usually was after the nightmares. The bags underneath his eyes looked heavier and the lines of his face more deep set than before. Traces of sweat still lingered on the borders of his hairline. He sighed and rubbed his chin. His face had gotten quite scruffy, he hadn't shaved in a while. His hair had grown out a bit too, reaching the base of his neck. He turned on the faucet and splashed some water on his face. He wiped down with a towel, grabbed a comb and attempted to tame his hair.


There came whimpering and scratching at the bathroom door. He called out to Chief to stop. She decided he'd taken enough time. Taking one last look at himself in the mirror, satisfied with his hair, he opened the door to a fluffy barricade that had laid herself across the threshold. She looked up at him. He tapped her lightly with his foot to move aside.


The sun's rays peeked through the blinds of the sliding door, illuminating the sparse furnishings of the house. The man crossed the beat up kitchen floor to the sink, taking an overturned three gallon stainless steel pot from the dish rack and set it on the stove. He turned on a burner and began filling the pot with water from the extending kitchen sink faucet.


Chief stood nearby, tail curled up with rapt attention. He opened the freezer and pulled out a brown package. Chief's tail wagged. "Today's menu is steak, how 'bout it girl?" He asked. Chief yipped in approval. He unwrapped the package and dropped the frozen meat into the pot, adding salt to the water before covering it with a lid. The meat wasn't for him but for Chief. It was her breakfast.


From one of the kitchen cabinets he took out a small pill bottle and a bag of soft doggie treats. Chief licked her chops. "Time for your medicine." He said. He shook out a single pill and shoved it inside of a treat. They were anti-inflammatories, to help ease the pain and discomfort from the oncoming arthritis in her spine and haunches. He showed her the treat in his fingers.


"Sitz." He said, and Chief sat down. "Platz." Chief lie down on her belly, head to the floor. "Auf." Chief stood back up. He knelt and held out a hand to her. "Gib Fuß." Chief gave both paws to him, right then left. "Gib Laut!" He commanded and Chief barked loudly. "Good girl." He smiled, scratching her head as she ate the treat from his hand.


With freshly made coffee in hand, he strode to the sliding door and pulled the little chain that drew back the blinds. Flipping the lock on the handle, he slid the door open and Chief trotted out into the small backyard. He took a moment to observe the outside scenery. There was a good cool breeze, which rustled the leaves of the Caribbean pines and the palms way down by the shore line. The brightly colored houses of the neighborhood stood out against the lush green of the trees and deep blue of the ocean. The sky was dotted with thick clouds. It was going to be a cloudy day, a nice break from the heat.


He plopped down on the living room couch and grabbed the remote from the coffee table. The channel was already set to CNN. He'd been watching a lot of news lately. As expected, the anchors and their guests were locked in yet another heated discussion.

"No no no! I don't see how any of you can consider this to be a good thing or find it acceptable in any way!" A man with dark curly hair ranted, "There are no longer wars for a reason or even one country fighting another, these proxy conflicts-"


A man dressed in military fatigues interrupted him. He looked like a Sargent. "Now don't twist my words. I've never thought of war as a good thing. War should never have a reason-"


" -These proxy conflicts," The first man continued, "are consuming populated areas! And no one knows exactly who is fighting them! Is it still different nations? Is the country divided and fighting amongst themselves? Or is it just two bitter, loaded neighbors hiring these blossoming 'Private Military Corporations' to settle grudges with each other?"


"It may not be a pretty picture Counselor, but you cannot deny that since Private Military Corporations have become a legitimate business, the U.S. economy has boomed. America has all but earned enough money to pay off it's National Debt. Twice." The Sargent retorted.


"But they are not paying it off are they? No, they're just pumping it right back out there, right back onto the battle field! Using it to pay for that experimental new 'Soldier System' of theirs."


A third person, a woman, interjected. "The U.S. is not the ones who started these Private Military Corporations. They popped up in the Middle East and parts of Europe. The PMCs where built by these countries or their private citizens. The U.S. is merely intervening to prevent further loss of life."


The curl hair man kept up his rant. "The United States is doing more than just 'intervening', they are making money off this. The 'War Economy' is becoming something very real now. It's what our country is beginning to run off of."


"Counselor, the United States spends billions of tax dollars every year to fund the military. If anything, shouldn't America be LOSING money? How do you propose they've been making it?" The military man asked.


The curly haired man chortled. "I suspect the Government has it's own PMC groups that they are renting out to other nations to help fuel their wars. And they even-"


The whole group erupted in disagreement.


"That's ridiculous! The U.S. does not have or lease any Private Military. The only Military we have are the Army, Navy, Marines and the National Guard and we certainly aren't renting them out to anybody." The Sargent argued.


The woman spoke again. "The Pentagon also claimed that they 'did not posses' and construct the blue prints for those 'walking battle tanks' that popped up on the internet six years ago either. And are you really going to look us in the eyes and tell us that the folks in the White House really had nothing to do with that war-class submarine that crashed into New York and Federal Hall a year ago? Not to mention the eyewitness accounts of the former President on the scene-"


"Now that is outrageous. You know what has been declared an accident by the Marines." The Sargent declared.


The curly haired Counselor interrupted himself back into the argument, "What's outrageous General, is that the U.S Economy is now beginning to THRIVE off of war. How long will it be until part of 'Joe Citizen's' paycheck comes from that blood money? Innocent civilians in the Middle East and Europe are DYING, caught up in the proxy war these Private Military Corporations are being paid to wage. And I don't see an end to it. One of these companies, 'Hoping Bug' or whatever it's called, has only just sprung up and already it has contracts from all over Afghanistan-"

The man bit his cheek. All the news channels covered the same thing every day: The rising War Economy, the Private Military Corporations (or PMCs for short) that sprung from it and all the conflicts they were causing. Private Troops were being hired in struggling countries to fight in independence revolutions, assist in revolts, or to fight off other PMCs hired by rival forces. They operated in smaller, more efficient factions and provided their own weapons and assault vehicles purchased from other nations' militaries. Myriads of cities, homes and citizens had already been caught in the crossfires and lost to the flames of war.


He took a drink of his bitter coffee.

The news journalists could only speculate why those countries started fighting and why PMCs rose in the first place. No one knew the actual truth. No one had any idea all this conflict was actually intentional, planned, orchestrated by those with an insane dream of a "system of complete control." But he knew. The ones who were behind it, the people pulling the strings.

The Patriots. A group of twelve set on setting the world on fire, in order to rebuild it under their insane vision.

After all of his efforts, he wasn't able to stop them. He had destroyed all of the Patriots' super-weapons, thwarted every one of their plans, eliminated all the groups they hired to stop him, and even put an end to any others trying to gain power by leeching off theirs. But it was all in vain. He didn't slow the Patriots down. It didn't even seem to faze them. The Patriots only grew stronger and more influential.

Guilt started to overcome him. What about the people who gave their lives for his cause along the way? Had he failed them? Had their ultimate sacrifices been for nothing? He should feel guilty. He was still breathing. No...no he shouldn't feel guilty. If he'd died, there would be no way to avenge them. Besides, he did not escape unscathed either. Not that it made him feel better. After all, the Patriots dealt with him first, or at least they tried to. He still had all his limbs and all his battle wounds had healed over time, but everywhere he went it was always in the back of his mind that the Angel of Death constantly followed him, placed there by the Patriots.

He stared at the TV now, the anchor's voices faded into an incoherent drum. His thoughts drifted back to the nightmare. Back to the burning beast. He could see its face so clearly. The stark features underneath the seared skin. The singed graying hair, and its one remaining eye, wide and wild. The way it howled and tore at him in anguish. His mind was consumed with dark memories.

"All I've done is given you a place for it. I've given you a reason to live. Start a war, fan it's flames, create victims...Then save them, train them, and feed them back onto the battlefield. It's a perfectly logical system. In this world of ours, conflict never ends. And neither does our purpose...our raison d'etre..."

There came an ear-splitting noise from behind and he was jolted from his dreary thoughts. He turned around to see Chief at the sliding door, her nose pressed against the glass. She howled loudly again when she'd finally gotten his attention.

He couldn't help a small smile, it was funny when Chief got irritated with him. He got up off the couch, walked to the sliding door and opened it to let her in. Chief huffed past and went straight to her water bowl. He slid the door close. He looked to a china cabinet in the corner of the room, inside were many gold and silver objects; pewter plates, shiny metal belt buckles, silver bowls with empty velvet pouches in them and old trophies shaped like antique lanterns. These were remnants of his past as a dog sledding champion. A pretty good sledder he should say so himself. He looked back at Chief.

He used to have an entire team of sixteen huskies, along with thirty four other dogs and puppies. But they were all gone now. Off to happy homes. He didn't have the heart to give Chief away. Not her... She wagged her tail at him.

"Maybe after breakfast, we should check on the geek." He said.


 

Chief followed him on the very short walk to the other duplex, connected by a small walkway and an overhanging trellis. He wrapped loudly on the door. "Otacon? It's me, open up." He spoke gruffly.

He stood with Chief on the stoop for a minute or two, waiting for a reply, but none came. He knocked again, a little irritated. "Come on Otacon. Answer the door already. Aren't you awake?" Still no answer. He groaned. He went back to his house, took a set of keys hanging from a cork board in the kitchen and walked back to his friend's door, where Chief waited patiently for him. Fingering a small gold key, he unlocked the door and went inside.

"Otacon?" He called out. Again no answer. He strolled through the house. There were papers all over the tables - drawings and schematics for gadgets. There were copper wires here and there and lots of tools laid about. All the lights were still off. He started for the hallway leading to his friend's room. The duplex houses had the exact same layout, give a slight moderation to his half of the property. He poked his head into the bedroom.

There his friend was, slouched at his computer desk and snoring on the keyboard. The man let out an exasperated sigh. "Hey." He said, knocking loudly on the door frame. Otacon did not stir. He repeated it louder. "Hey!"

When it was clear this wouldn't wake him, he rolled his eyes, grabbed a nick-knack off the dresser by the door and threw it. His aim was impeccable. The object bounced right off his friend's head and the man jerked awake.

"Huh?! Wha...?!" He stammered.

"Afternoon." He greeted in a flat voice.

"Snake?"

Otacon blinked a few times, his glasses askew on his face. He sighed loudly, removing his glasses and rubbing the top of his head. "Can't you ever be nice about waking me up?"

"No." Snake simply responded. He crossed his arms and leaned against the door frame.

"What time is it?" His friend yawned.

"Just past noon."

"Noon?" Otacon rubbed his eyes then looked over at the digital clock next to the computer screen. "Ugh, I feel asleep..."

This man is Dr. Hal Emmerich. A gifted engineer and genius in the field of mechanics. Also an expert programmer and hacker. Snake met the man five years ago and they'd become good friends. He's a bit of an oddball, having an affliction for Japanese cartoons. 'Otacon' was the nickname he went by.

"Pull another all-nighter?" Snake asked.

Otacon finally appeared awake. His short, scraggly brown hair was mussed on the side he had been sleeping on. "Yeah. I was hacking into that disk again, the one we got from Arsenal. I was looking over the codes, trying to see if there really weren't any files with real information on it." Otacon turned his chair back to his desk and hit a key on the keyboard. The computer's monitor turned on, window after window of computer code and word documents took up the screen.

"Did you find anything?" Snake asked.

"Nothing new." Otacon replied somberly. "All of this information, every bit of it, it's all useless. Just strung together nonsense. There's nothing in here leading to the real identity of the Patriots at all. It's just-"

"A bunch of lies, meant to throw us off their trail."

"And man, did it work."

Snake let out a long sigh, hanging his head a little. One-half of their entire mission a year ago at an oil clean up facility called Big Shell was stealing a disc full of data from a war-class submarine called Arsenal Gear, which had been built by the Patriots. The other half of the mission was stopping the terrorist group that controlled it. But the disc was a dead end. And now there truly were no other leads to finding out their identities and stopping them.

Chief interrupted the men's moment of lament. She went to Otacon and pawed at his leg.

"Oh, hey Chief." Otacon rubbed the sides of the dog's face. He yawned again. "I need some coffee. You want a cup Snake?"

"No, I've already had some. Thanks."


 

Snake sat at the dining room table while Otacon mixed his sugar and creamer in his coffee. Chief made herself at home on Otacon's couch. He tried to command her to get down but Chief wouldn't listen. Otacon asked for Snake's help, but Snake just shrugged. She wouldn't listen to him either. Chief did what Chief wanted.

"Have you heard anything from Smih and the U.N. yet?" Snake asked Otacon once he sat down at the table across from him.

Otacon shook his head. "No. I've emailed Smih a few times. But he hasn't answered me back yet."

Snake sighed. "It's been six months already..."

The engineer shrugged. "I'm sure everything's fine. The U.N.'s probably just got bigger things on their hands right now. You've seen the news of rebel groups causing trouble in the Middle East, thanks to those Private Military Companies. They're tearing countries apart left and right. The U.N. might be busy dealing with how to put an end to it."

"With nothing but endless meetings and bitching, not getting anything done." Snake said bitterly.

"The United Nations is a heck of a lot more effective than any other world organization out there. You and I both know that. If anyone can put a stop the uprisings it's them." Otacon took a careful sip of his coffee, "Because of Smih, you and I have put a stop to plenty of Metal Gears around the world. Not to mentioned he's stashed us away when things got too messy."

The man they were speaking of was Callum Smih, a congressional member of the United Nations and a great ally to Snake and Otacon. After a mission Snake underwent 5 years ago in Alaska in 2005, he and Otacon formed a small group they called 'Philanthropy.' An organization whose sole purpose was the complete eradication of the most dangerous weapon to ever be conceived by mankind - All terrain, bi-pedal 'walking' tanks with nuclear capabilities called Metal Gears.

Metal Gears, or at least their blue prints, had originated in the U.S.S.R. in the 1960s. An American scientist had brought the plans to the United States and it was adopted as a top secret Black Project by D.A.R.P.A. and the U.S. Department of Defense. The Metal Gear project was meant to put America on top as the number one nuclear super power in the world. But after a model, code named 'REX', was hijacked by another group of terrorists at a nuclear weapons disposal facility called Shadow Moses, Snake put the machine out of commission himself.

Unfortunately the blueprints for Metal Gears had found their way onto the internet, and dozens of Metal Gear knock-offs begun to crop up all around the world, built by smaller nations trying to claw their way to the top. Otacon was REX's chief engineer, although he had no idea what he was really building at the time, having been lied to by his superiors. He'd was under the impression REX was a Theater Mobile Defense Vehicle for shooting down enemy missiles.


Snake also had a previous history with Metal Gears, having taken out two others before REX early in his military career. Both men felt it was their job to stop these monstrosities from spreading all over the world. So they approached the U.N., proposing their solution to the problem of these weapons and the dangers they possess with their organization Philanthropy. Callum Smih had believed in their movement and was the driving force in getting the U.N. to sponsor them.

Unfortunately two years ago, after a failed mission to destroy a second American-made Metal Gear being secretly being transported on a Tanker up the New York harbor, Snake was labeled a Terrorist by the United States government. He even ended up on Homeland Security's Most Wanted List. Smih helped both men go underground until things calmed down.

And now he had helped them again, after their most recent mission at Big Shell, Smih pulled some strings and now both men were laying low in an island paradise, the British controlled territory of Bermuda, just close enough but out of reach to the United States. He was someone they both could trust, and whenever Otacon tracked down another lead on another Metal Gear, Smih would set up the transportation, telecommunications, equipment and any weapons supplies they needed for the job.

Snake shook his head. "That may be true, but you and I both know the uprisings aren't the real threat." Snake looked across the table at his friend. "Ocelot has disappeared and no one knows where he is."

Otacon furrowed his brow, "There haven't been any sightings of Ocelot since last you and I saw him at Big Shell in 2009. I've been scouring the Underground networks, I'm sure Smih's boys in the U.N. have as well, but there's been no word of his whereabouts anywhere. It's like he fell off the face of the Earth."

"The rising PMC Companies, the revolutions, it can't be a coincidence, it has to be his doing."

"Probably."

An aged, gun slinging Russian mercenary, Revolver Ocelot is the front man of the Patriots. He was one of the people behind REX's hijacking in 2005 and the solely responsible for the Tanker Incident in 2007. Ocelot was also the one who leaked the Metal Gear blueprints online, and sent photos of Snake taken on the Tanker to the media, causing him to be labeled as a Terrorist. He was even behind the war-class submarine that crashed into Federal Hall in New York in 2009. And, though they had no direct proof yet, there was no doubt Ocelot was behind the recent uprisings as well.

"The Metal Gear blueprints may have been removed from the internet, but Black Market Arms Dealers still have their hands on 'em, and they'll be selling them to third world countries like Girl Scout cookies." Snake commented.

"That's the thing though Snake, I haven't caught any new leads on any new Metal Gears for a long time. It seems no one's building any right now." Otacon said.

"You sure about that?" Snake questioned, raising an eyebrow at his friend. "You sure you're keeping up with all your information and informants correctly?"

Otacon gave him a look. "Of course I have. You saying you actually want more Metal Gears to surface?"

"Well, no, I..." but Snake lost his words.

"Snake, listen." Otacon put down his coffee cup and interlocked his fingers. "I know you're a little on edge. We haven't had any jobs in a long time or any contact with Smih, but...who's to say that isn't a good thing?"

It was Snake's turn to look at him.

"I think we should be enjoying the little reprieve we have right now. Because it's our only moment of peace. We can't fight all the time Snake, you know that. Even soldiers need their rest." His friend finished.

Snake look down at the table and sighed. Maybe he was right, maybe not hearing from Smih was a good thing. The Bootleg Gears could have finally stopped, just like they'd set out to accomplish in the first place. But he didn't believe it would actually happen. Something else could have happened to Ocelot that put him out of commission for the time being. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes. He needed a cigarette right now. "Yeah, you're right. Sorry Otacon, I just..."

"Don't worry about it. I know how you feel. Silence can be a scary thing. The U.N.'s probably dealing with the uprisings first and foremost. Besides," Otacon picked up his cup and took another sip. "The day Smih calls us is the day the real threat returns."

Snake stayed at his friend's duplex for another hour before he went back to his own, again reminding Otacon to call him first thing whenever, and if ever, he heard from Smih. "Not a second later." He'd warned. Otacon just waved him off.

Sitting on his living room couch, Snake pulled out a pack of cigarettes, lighting one up and inhaling the calming fumes. Tomorrow will just be another day of silence, more down time and news anchor bitching. What a rut he was in.


 

Stars dotted the heavens like diamonds in the clear, cloudless night. Soft moonlight bathed the trees and grounds below, including the mysterious figure standing in front of a mailbox. The figure held up a parchment letter.

"This will not convince you. But a letter of invitation is always formal."

The figure opened the mailbox and placed the letter inside. Closing it back, he smiled.

Inside the duplex, from atop Snake's bed, Chief lifted her head, ears perked towards the bedroom window. After a moment, she heard nothing else and lay her head back down.

Chapter Text

"Good Morning everyone! I'm Debbie Wasilla and you are watching WKTB News. It is now 10 AM and still a cozy 25 degrees Celsius out here in Hamilton. Upcoming news this morning, European based rebel group 'Paradise Lost Army' caused quite a stir in the French capital last night, breaking into one of the French Government's heavily guarded Military Installations. The French government has responded to the break in by sending out members of their PMC 'Pieuvre Armement' to find and capture the Army. So far, Paradise Lost remains at large. The French government has refused to comment on what, if anything, was stolen."

"Hold still."

Chief whined annoyedly.

"I don't know why you always complain, you know I have to brush you back here."

Chief turned around to look back at Snake and vocalized her protest again.

He smiled. "I don't want to hear it."

Out on the back porch, Snake was brushing out the fur on Chief's haunches which had become matted by her own saliva. Chief had a terrible habit of chewing on her butt. She was also beginning to shed, loosing the small fine hairs of her undercoat. She yipped. Chief didn't like it when he brushed her tangles out.

"I'm almost done, stop whining." He said.

Snake finally brushed out the last of the tangles and moved on to brushing out her tail. Chief quieted down after that and Snake pat her head. She laid down on the concrete. Snake prompted her to stand back up but Chief seemed to ignore him. Was she was mad? Snake pat her side. "Chief..."

She didn't move. He started to scratch her belly. After a moment, she twisted around on her back with all four legs in the air. He chuckled. Chief was a spoiled princess sometimes. He rubbed her belly a little longer and she started to wag her tail.

"Alright come on, we've got to finish." Snake said, and he pulled Chief back up onto her feet. She howled out in objection.

Otacon appeared in the backyard. "Hey Snake. I was going to knock on your door, but I heard you and Chief back here. Brushing out her fur again?"

"Yeah. All the chew toys I buy for her, and her favorite is her butt." Snake quipped.

Otacon waved some papers at him. "Got your mail."

"Oh, thanks." Snake stood up and Chief escaped, running to the far end of the yard and rolling around in the grass. Snake shook his head and took the letters from Otacon. He idly flipped through them. The mailman left him quite a stack. "What're doing over here? Something finally ping online?"

"Not exactly..." Otacon paused and rubbed the back of his neck. "I got a call from Smih this morning."

"You did?!"

"Yeah."

"What happened? Did they find Ocelot?"

Otacon's brow furrowed. "...We'd better go sit down."

Snake was befuddled by his friend's attitude, nevertheless, they both went inside Snake's duplex and sat at his dining table. Otacon didn't begin right away, he turned away from Snake, focusing on Chief as she rubbed her head against his leg. Snake examined the man, his demeanor was definitely troubled.

"Is it bad news?" Snake asked, putting the mail stack aside on the table.

"Well, I was right about the U.N. They have been busy with the revolutions." Otacon began, "Smih said they've been holding one meeting right after another, mostly with the Middle Eastern diplomats."

Snake knew his friend was just beating around the bush, but he said nothing. Otacon sighed. "Look I'll cut to the chase. The U.N. is thinking about dropping Philanthropy."

"What?!" Snake gasped. "You can't be serious!"

"Smih isn't too happy about it either."

Snake balled his fists in rage. "Why the hell would the U.N. do that? Is Smih doing anything about this? Why the hell didn't he call the both of us!"

Otacon put up his hands. "He only had a few minutes to talk. He wanted me to break the news to you. I don't think he had the heart to tell you himself."

Snake growled. "Why Otacon! I don't understand!"

The engineer looked down at the table and pushed his glasses up. "On top of the U.N. having to dispatch aid to the countries that have fallen victim to the Revolutions, there have been growing disputes among the members about what to actually do about the PMCs since, technically they aren't illegal, but...They haven't been able to come to an agreement this entire time."

Snake's response was sarcastic. "So, they're dropping us because they're too busy?"

"No. Well kinda...not exactly though, it's actually..."

Snake didn't have the patience for his friends annoying habit right now. "What?" He growled again.

"...It's our last mission. The one at Big Shell." Otacon responded. "We stopped Arsenal Gear and Patriots' plan but, we also let Ocelot escape."

Snakes voice rose. "I tried to stop him! I went after him! But he-!"

"I know that Snake." Otacon cut him off with a stern tone. "And Smih knows it too. But Big Shell wasn't our only failed mission. The Tanker too..." His eyes fell back to the table. "We let Ocelot escape that time as well. And it was because of that, that the Big Shell plant was constructed in the first place. And then came Arsenal."

Snake scoffed. "The U.N. is blaming me then."

"...Yeah."

Snake shook his head. He wanted to protest, wanted to rant about how the U.N. was nothing more than a bunch of politicians in stuffed suits sitting in comfy offices and not in the field and line of fire like he was, but then, Otacon's words started to sink in.

The engineer continued, "The U.N. knows you were wrongfully named a Terrorist, but because of Ocelot's latest escape, the PMC Companies and the civil disturbances they incited are only the latest result of his scheming."

If Otacon thought these words were supposed to help he was sorely mistaken, they only fed the intense guilt Snake was beginning to feel. He hung his head.

"Smih has been fighting tooth and nail for us though. He knows we're the only ones who can stop Ocelot, he believes in us but... It's just not enough. He says the situation isn't looking good anymore." Otacon finished. Snake remained quiet. He looked down at Chief now, she sat on her haunches between the two of them.

"Snake?"

A dark smirk tugged at the corners of his mouth. "...They're right. We did let him escape."

"Don't think like that. You and I both tried our best to stop him. They're were just other factors, other people who-"

"It doesn't change the fact that we let him go both times." Snake interrupted, looking back at his friend. "What good has Philanthropy been if we weren't able to expose Metal Gear RAY in the first place, and what about Olga's child?"

Otacon's expression seemed to drop at the mention of that name, he said nothing back.

"Look what's happening." Snake motioned to the TV in the living room. On it flashed footage of burnt out buildings with the giant caption 'Mantis Launches Retaliation Strike' on the bottom. The footage changed to a middle eastern woman clinging to her child, both of them covered in blood and dirt. It changed again to mobs of people running away from armor clad soldiers pointing their guns to them.

"Ocelot is tearing the world apart with the Patriots' help. And we're about to loose the only people who can help us. Face it Otacon, we're done." Snakes voice quieted. "We're failures."

Both men went silent. Otacon was looking down to the floor. Snake clasped his hands together and stared at his scarred knuckles. The feeling of helplessness overwhelmed him.

After a few moments, Otacon broke the silence, "...What about all the other Metal Gears you've destroyed? The bootlegs from around the world? Do those not count?"

Snake's head rose a little bit.

Otacon turned back to him. "Take a step back and look at the big picture. You've destroyed almost a dozen potential new Metal Gears, potential weapons of mass destruction. Every mission you've went on before the Tanker, you've completed and returned home in one piece." Snake listened intently. "Ocelot is a whole different game than a few countries trying to claw their way to the top. He has the support of the Patriots, and they have endless resources, endless influence and endless reach. Even greater than the U.N. itself right now. It's no wonder Ocelot didn't get caught. And it wasn't because you didn't do your best." Otacon used his hands to help emphasize his next words, "When Ocelot took off in Metal Gear RAY in New York, you jumped into the ocean right after him! RAY is a 400 ton war machine, there was no way you could have physically stopped it! But you tried anyway!"

Snake sat back in his chair, remembering that incident.

Otacon went on. "I know you Snake. No matter how bad things get, or how hopeless any situation may seem, you never give up. You have won against the odds more times than you know. So what if the U.N. drops us? That doesn't mean we have to stop fighting. It certainly won't stop me from putting an end to the curse of my family name. Or from avenging Emma..." Otacon's voice trailed off, he regained his composure just as quickly, adjusting his glasses again. "And I know it won't stop you either. After all, you vowed to put an end to the cycle of destruction that He started. If the U.N. refuses to be on our side then we'll find somebody else. And if we can't, well..." Otacon genuinely smiled. "You've got me buddy, and I've got you. That's all we need, right?"

Snake smirked. "Right."

Otacon pat him on the arm. "That's the spirit! Besides, the decision to drop Philanthropy isn't final yet. Smih said he was going to do everything in his power to prevent it. And you know how incredibly clever he can be."

Snake had to agree, after all, it takes a special kind of man to convince the world's greatest humanitarian group to hire two legally declared dead men to go around the world destroying nuclear-capable machines. It sounded like a crazy video game in itself.

"In the meantime though," Otacon stretched back in his chair, his usual demeanor returning. "It looks like Philanthropy's 'temporary hiatus' has just turned into an indefinite one. Guess you and I have more free time on our hands."

"Good ol' down time in tropical paradise." Snake pat his knee, a signal for Chief to come. She put her head on his leg and he scratched her behind the ears. "Peace and quiet."

At least they weren't in a terrible place. Bermuda was a beautiful island. It was never too hot or too cold. The scenery was gorgeous with beautiful fauna, colorful houses and deep royal blue waters. Whats more, they didn't even have to work. He and Otacon were financially supported by the U.N. Smih was also old friends with Bermuda's current President, who had offered them the duplex to live in on one of his many private properties. Though they were both forbidden from getting local jobs and advised not to go out into public too often. Snake's face was plastered all over the world as a terrorist, after all. It drove him a little crazy to be cooped up all day, but from their property, he had a good view of Pink Beach and there were always plenty of pretty girls in bikinis.

"Maybe for you Snake, sometimes I get a little stir crazy staying in the house all day."

"What do you got to be so antsy about? All you do is stay inside and build those gadgets. Not to mention watching those weird shows of yours..." Snake finished under his breath.

"Hey! They're not weird." retorted Otacon, clearly hearing him. "Some of them are really good. It's only the weird ones that are weird. I seemed to recall you enjoy watching Cowboy Bebop." Snake was going to defend himself but Otacon suddenly clapped his hands together. "Which reminds me, you never finished watching it."

Snake stiffened.

"You were only on what, episode 11? That's one of the best ones." Otacon beamed. "You can finish it now. Although, I'd have to find it. The DVDs are not on my shelf, I think I misplaced them somewhere."

Snake tapped his fingers on the table. "Wouldn't be surprising." He muttered. Otacon's house was a bit in disarray. The man wasn't organized worth a damn.

Otacon ignored his comment. "You might have to start over though. The episodes don't exactly leave off from one another. I'm not sure you can remember everything that happened up to that point."

"Sure I can. Uhh..." Snake thought for a moment, then replied with ease. "That's the episode where the Bebop crash lands on Io, and they chase down that drug dealer whose selling those hallucinogenic mushrooms."

"That's right..." said Otacon, then he tilted his head to the side.

"Told you I could remember." Snake said smugly.

"Wait..." The engineer crossed his arms now, seeming to be deep in thought. Snake watched him carefully from across the table. "Episode 11 was when Spike left that lobster dinner in the storage room that mutated and went around the ship biting everyone. Mushroom Samba was episode 17." The engineer narrowed his eyes at Snake. "I know because I've watched the series a million times. Snake, did you...did you finish watching Cowboy Bebop without me?"

Snake didn't respond. Instead, he grabbed his mail and started to read through them again.

"Snake."

He continued to stare at his mail, saying nothing.

Otacon's face became incredulous. "You did! But how, you..." A realization dawned on him. He turned around to face the living room. Right next to television set was Snake's DVD player, and sitting on top of that was a green-ish box, the character Spike Spiegal's face and signature green hair clearly on the side. Otacon turned back to Snake. "You stole the box set from my house?!"

Snake dropped the letters onto the table. Looks like he'd been caught.

His friend stuttered, trying to convey his feelings of betrayal. "I can't believe you! I couldn't find it because I'd misplaced it, I couldn't find it because you stole it from me! How long ago did you take it?"

Snake was slow with his response. "A few months ago."

"And how many times have you watched it?"

"...Twice."

Otacon threw his hands in the air. "Unbelievable!"

Snake finally growled in annoyance. "I couldn't watch it with you anymore Otacon, you constantly talked through every episode. You were always saying 'watch this part! watch that part!'" Snake did his best to dramatically imitate his friend's voice. "I was watching! I was looking at the TV but I couldn't concentrate on anything. So I...took the DVDs to watch them at home, where it was quiet."

Otacon went silent but his brow remained furrowed.

"I was gonna give it back." Snake added.

"You could have just asked you know, I would have lent them to you."

"Not like I tried..." Snake mumbled to himself. All of this stress was too much for him, he needed a smoke. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his trusty pack, shaking out a single stick.

"Do you really have to smoke in here?" Otacon said, he sounded irritated.

Snake produced his Zippo lighter from his other pocket. "It's my house." He smartly replied. He flipped the lighter and thumbed a flame to life, inhaling one puff. "I guess now you can take the DVDs back yourself, since I don't have to- " Snake's sentence was suddenly cut short; he'd erupted into a coughing fit.

"Hey, you alright?" Otacon jumped out of his chair and started swatting Snake on his back. "I told you smoking was bad for you!"

Snake coughed roughly, barely able to breathe. This was no doubt brought on by the twenty plus years of smoking he'd done. He'd started to get coughing fits every now and then. A sure sign he wasn't as young as he used to be. He began to hit himself on the chest.

"Come on Snake, breathe. Just relax." Otacon coached, "Just- Waah!" He let out a startled cry. Snake managed to lift his head and see what had surprised his friend when he felt a sudden heat at the same time.

His mail was on fire.

Snake had dropped his open and lit Zippo right onto the letters in his coughing fit. They caught fire rather quickly. Otacon was jumping side to side in panic. Chief started to bark at the commotion.

"What-! I-! Snake-!" He stuttered.

Snake was still trying to catch his breath. He managed to point to the sink in the kitchen, Otacon ran to it, then reappeared and dumped an entire glassful of water onto the table. Snake jumped out of his seat. The flames were extinguished instantly.

Finally Snake caught his breath. "Otacon-! Why'd you-!" He heaved and coughed. "I meant - take them - to the sink - and put them out!"

"I wasn't going to touch them! They were on fire!"

Snake coughed a little more, using the chair for support. He waved his hand at Chief to quiet her. "Pfui-! Platz! Platz!" Chief stopped barking and hesitantly lie down on the floor. Snake picked up his soaking wet lighter and cigarette. He tried to shake the water out of the smoke, but the damage had been done. It was soggier than old bread. What a waste.

"I'll get a towel." Otacon offered and he headed to the bathroom. Chief whined. Snake looked at her, whispering the command to stand and showed her the limp cigarette, as if she would understand the loss. She only sniffed it.

He put the lighter and smoke aside as Otacon reappeared with a towel in hand. Snake picked up his soaking and blackened mail. "Aah jeez..." He sighed. Every letter was burned and all the ink smeared and illegible. "How am I supposed to pay my bills now?"

"Sorry." Otacon apologized, mopping up the water. "But I told you smoking was bad for you."

Snake growled in annoyance. "You gotta be kidding me! I didn't-!"

His sentence was cut short once again; one of the damaged letters in his hand shined with a bright light and regenerated. Snake dropped the soggy mail in surprise, both of them were stunned into silence. Chief started barking.

"Snake...did you just..."

"What...the hell?"

Snake commanded Chief to hush again. He cautiously picked up the normal looking letter. He ran his fingers over the paper. "It's bone dry." He said. Snake turned the letter over a couple times, examining it. There was no writing. The paper was a thick, rich parchment, definitely not mass-manufactured printer paper. A red glob of wax sealed the envelope's flap. It had an insignia pressed into it; a perfect circle with two intersecting lines.

"Is that a wax seal?" Otacon asked.

"Recognize the symbol?"

"Not at all. You?"

"No."

"That can't be paper...what kind of technology is this?"

"Never seen this before?"

"Never."

Snake flipped the envelope over again. "This was with my mail...Otacon, did you grab it out of the mailbox like this? With the other letters?"

"Yeah." His friend adjusted his glasses. "I just got whatever was inside. I didn't look at any of them."

"No address, not even a stamp. This was hand delivered."

"By who?"

Snake turned the letter back to the wax seal. "Whoever this symbol belongs to."

Otacon's voice became serious."You think it's Ocelot?"

"Doesn't seem like his style. Why go through the trouble of sending a letter if he's figured out where we are? He'd send a couple of armed 'messengers' instead." Snake replied.

Otacon tilted his head. "The seal is our first clue. Wax pressing is only a recreational hobby now. It began in the 13th Century, in place of signatures, to prove authentic documents, issue decrees, and seal letters of official invitations."

"Invitation, huh?"

Otacon started towards the back kitchen door. "Let me go grab my laptop. I can search the terrorists and radical databases for that symbol. Don't touch it or open it Snake. We don't know what's inside. It could be a letterbomb. We have to be careful with it and-"

RIIIP! Snake tore the wax seal open.

"Snake!" Otacon cried, jumping back. "What are you doing?! That could have been a bomb!"

"No bomb." He said simply, unfazed by his friend's panic. "Didn't feel any wires or a battery. Besides, a letterbomb this size will only singe your eyebrows off. You want to do some real damage, you use a package." The look of panic subsided a little from his friend's face. "The only way to find out who this is from is to read the letter."

Snake pulled out the neatly folded parchment. Otacon went to his side again as he unfolded the single page letter. The writing was an elegant and flowing cursive, definitely done by hand. The same symbol on the wax seal was imprinted at the top of the page. Snake read aloud:

To the esteemed Legendary Soldier Solid Snake,

You have been formally invited to participate in the universes' most prestigious intergalactic fighting contest, the 3rd installment of the Super Smash Brothers Tournament.

Your skills in battle have been witnessed and your indomitable fighting spirit proven worthy. We would be most honored to have you attend and compete against other warriors of equal skill and mettle from across all strings of Time and Space.

There will be generous prize money offered for each match undertaken, increasing in value as you advance through the ranks. The ultimate prize for victory of the Tournament will be the fulfillment of your greatest desire.

If you are able and have the means of intergalactic travel, directions to the Tournament site have been included. If inter-dimensional travel is impossible for you at your time, a Courtesy Shuttle will be provided to transport you and all luggage at the designated time and place below.

The Tournament is an ongoing event. Because Time varies from Cosmos to Cosmos, the time you spend away from home may vary. Please be sure to make any and all arrangements with work and family for your possibly lengthy stay.

A room will be provided for you free of charge. Our Staff offers the finest and healthiest in cousine choices, the most advanced in Medical Care, and a bountiful array of activities to keep you entertained and active during your downtime.

We ask that you please arrive early with plenty of time to adjust to the new environment and atmosphere if needed, begin preparation and practice for combat and also making comfortable for your stay.

There is no need to RSVP, we are already waiting for you.

Prove that you are the strongest of the strong, the bravest of the brave and your will to fight and survive unbreakable.

Prove you are the strongest in the galaxy.

All the best of luck to you.

- M. H.

Once again, both men where struck into silence.

"An...intergalactic tournament...?" Otacon said in disbelief. "...Is this some kind of joke?"

Snake however was not amused. He stared at his name in the top line. Joke or not, someone knew who he was and where he lived. Because of Smih, Snake's identity and place of residence was kept secret, no one in Smith's Parrish knew who he was. Even though Ocelot knew his face, he didn't know Snake's current location.

But this 'M.H.' knew.

"What's that say?" Otacon pointed to a small note at the bottom of the page. Snake read again:

I know the nature of your job and your current status makes things very sensitive. I assure you I am not a threat nor your enemy.

Give me a call and we'll have a chat about your invitation and the Tournament at length.

000.00

- M.H.

Otacon swallowed. "Is that..."

"A frequency number." Snake finished. The situation was serious.

Snake began to pace around the kitchen, waving the letter. "They know my code name, where I live and," He tapped his ear, "probably hacked into and have access to my Codec. Even if this 'intergalactic contest' stuff is all bullshit, this information about me is real."

"You think this M.H. guy really isn't an enemy like he says?"

"We don't know him, so we can't trust him. How many allies have we run into in our line of work?"

Otacon nodded. "We should call Smih and tell him about this. It may or may not be a ruse set up by Ocelot but someone knows where you live. And that's information they can easily pass onto him." Otacon looked to the table and sighed in annoyance. "I should've brought my laptop with me. Snake you have Smih's number don't you?"

Snake pointed to his land line hanging on kitchen wall. "His business card is on the cork board."

"Hope you have long distance." Otacon muttered as he walked away.

Snake's mind was racing. There was a possibility that the U.S. Government finally wised up and tracked him down, after all, they had managed to find him before. But like Ocelot, they too would have sent armed soldiers to his residence. Making up some nonsense fighting contest was too complicated and...just plain stupid.

"Snake..."

He was interrupted from his train of thought. A grim look adorned Otacon's face, his eyes were wide. "The phone is dead."

"What?"

Snake snatched the receiver from Otacon and held it to his ear. There was no dial tone. Snake hung it up and put it to his ear again. Nothing.

"Shit, they've cut the line." He cursed. That whole damn thing was a trap. Snake went to all his windows and carefully peeked out the blinds.

"See anyone?"

"No, but that's the point. No telling how many are out there." He pointed. "Go to the hallway and get down, it's the only place they can't see from the windows." Snake whistled to Chief and her ears perked. "Pass auf." He commanded, signaling to Otacon. Chief went with the engineer as he ducked into the hallway. Snake passed by and headed to his room.

He went to his gun cabinet in the corner, unlocked it, and took up his favorite weapon; a Heckler and Koch USP SOCOM Pistol, with the laser sight attached. He slapped in a loaded clip, put a couple more into his pockets and screwed on a 5 inch long suppressor. Snake went back into the hallway and knelt next to Otacon, who was pressed up against the wall. Chief was standing valiantly in front, guarding him as Snake had instructed her to.

"Too bad you busted that stealth camo back on the tanker." Otacon half heartily joked. "It sure would've come in handy right about now." Snake smirked a little as he took the safety off and loaded a bullet into the chamber.

"OK here's how it going to go down." Snake began. "We don't know how many are out there or what kind of firepower they have. So right now we have to assume the worst. You and I are completely trapped in here, we have no visual of the enemy and no means of escape, so that means we'll have to wait for them to make the first move."

"And what will that be?"

"Someone will knock on the front door. He'll be the distractor. If the target moves to open the door, the entire unit will burst in from the windows, guns drawn." He hung his head a little. "At least, that's the way it went down the first time. But these people sent us a warning, let us know they were coming. I can't figure out why."

"Would they really do that in front of the neighbors though?" Otacon asked.

Snake shrugged. Smith's Parrish was a pretty crowded place. There was no way an armed battalion would go unnoticed. Could these strangers really be so reckless?

"Maybe you should try calling that number. See what M.H. really wants." Otacon suggested.

"I seriously doubt he wants to talk about an intergalactic fighting tournament." Snake put emphasis on the last words, looking at his friend with an eyebrow raised.

Chief looked back at Snake, her tail wagged, her little body was quivering with excitement.

Snake's lowered his voice. "Otacon...Whatever happens, just...make sure they don't shoot Chief. Protect her too."

The other man looked confused. Back when Snake was living his steady and peaceful life as a competitive dog sledder in Alaska, a group of armed soldiers sent by the Pentagon broke into his home, knocked him unconscious and dragged him back into his previous line of work, a black ops infiltration specialist. The only reason the soldiers were able to subdue him was because one of them had grabbed Chief by the throat and threaten to shoot her, along with the forty-nine other dogs he had at the time, if Snake didn't go with them. He had no choice but to surrender. Snake also remembered running into that same soldier on the submarine he was taken to and punching the daylights out of him for it.

Otacon put a hesitant hand on Chief's back. "Uh, right, I will."

He knew the engineer wouldn't be able to do much, but he could at least hold Chief back from charging and putting herself in danger. Snake readied his weapon. There was no telling how long they would remain huddled there, or how long the enemy would wait to strike. Chances are they had been waiting since delivering that letter. So they must have seen Otacon. Was he a target too? Where they waiting for the both of them to be in one place? It made sense. But then, they could have struck while both men were outside in the backyard. So what were they waiting for?

Riiing! Riiing! Snake jerked, his Codec chimed in his ear.

"What is it?"

"They're calling." So they did hack into his frequency.

"Are you gonna answer?" Otacon asked.

Snake looked to his friend and put a finger to the spot just below his left ear. He picked up.

"Now now," Came a man's voice. "There is no need for any hostility here. Didn't you read the letter? I am not your enemy."

"Who the hell are you?" Snake growled.

"I am M.H." The voice replied.

"What do you want?"

"Just as the letter said, I want to speak with you about your invitation."

Snake's tone was incredulous. "...To the Tournament?"

The man chuckled. "I knew you'd be skeptical. That's why I came to see you in person."

"You and how many others?"

"Just me."

"Why did you cut my phone line?"

"I didn't cut it." The man sounded a little defensive. "I just...disabled your phone for the time being. I didn't want you calling your boss and reporting me as a mysterious threat before we even had a chance to talk."

"You cut off my means of communication and have me cornered in my own house, how exactly are you not a threat?"

"Technically speaking, I don't have you cornered at all. I disabled your phone, yes, but it is entirely you huddled down in your house, believing there is an enemy waiting outside, when really it's only me. Unarmed and all alone."

Snake was unsure how to reply.

"Come and see for yourself if you don't believe me. I'm standing right outside."

Snake stood to a low crouch, mouthing "Stay here." to Otacon before he crept into the kitchen, leaving behind his friend's confused voice. He went to the tiny window in the kitchen and peeked through the blinds. Sure enough, there was a man standing in the middle of the driveway.

"Can you see me now?" Said the voice. The person in the driveway waved at him. Snake narrowed his eyes. He took a second to scan the outside surroundings again, looking for any movement in the trees or in the houses across the street. He looked behind him to the sliding door. No one was standing there either.

"All by myself, just like I said." The voice spoke again. "Now, why don't you invite me in? We'll have a nice little chat over a cup of coffee, and I'll tell you everything you want to know."

"Why don't we talk like this, over the Codec?" Snake suggested.

The man outside tilted his head a fraction to the left. "In a business deal, you typically have the first meeting with a client face to face."

"You seem a little keen on meeting me in person."

"I believe more trust is developed when two people speak directly."

Snake weighed his choices. He did want answers, he wanted to know who the man was working for and what exactly he wanted. But it seemed the stranger would only tell him that in person. There was no guarantee though that once Snake opened the front door he, Otacon or Chief would be safe.

"What do you say, Snake?"

"How do I know I can trust you?" He asked. He swear he could see a smile spread across the man's face.

"You have my honorary word."

"That doesn't mean much to me."

M.H. chuckled. "I guess not. At least not yet. You have a gun don't you? If you allow me inside, you can point it at me the entire time if it makes you feel safe. I won't mind."

How did the man know he had a gun? Did he see Snake though his bedroom window? "You should know I have impeccable aim."

"You wouldn't be the legend you are if you didn't."

Snake cringed at those words. "Alright then. Let's have a chat."

Chapter Text

Snake stood cautiously behind the front door. He glanced over to Otacon in the hallway. He had a firm grip Chief's collar and nodded, signaling that he was ready. Snake raised his SOCOM, finger on the trigger. He grabbed a hold of the doorknob and yanked it open.

Standing on his porch was the lone man, dressed in a perfectly pressed suit, shiny dress shoes and a very professional haircut. He clutched a briefcase in his right hand.

"It's nice to finally meet with you Snake." Said the man. He held out a gloved hand in greeting. Snake didn't move. He kept the gun pointed directly between the man's eyes, though the stranger didn't seem to notice.

"What's in the briefcase?" Snake asked.

The man dropped his hand. "Nothing, and then, everything." Was his response.

"Open it." Snake demanded.

Without hesitation M.H. flipped the cases' latches and displayed the inside to him. It was completely empty.

"Who brings an empty suitcase to a meeting?" Snake asked.

M.H. said nothing back, he only smiled, latching the briefcase shut again. Snake narrowed his eyes at the man. Something about M.H. was...off, and his smile had to be the creepiest thing Snake had ever seen. His white gloves looked out of place with the rest of his attire. The air around him was... just not right.

"Aren't you going to invite me in?" M.H. asked, "It's not polite to keep guests outside."

Snake lowered his weapon a little. He stepped aside and the man breezed right past. M.H. stopped in the space that divided the dining area from the living room. He looked around the house, spotting Otacon and Chief in the hallway.

"Dr. Emmerich." M.H. faced him and smiled. "Such an honor to finally meet you. I must say, I am a fan of your work."

"Uhh...thanks?" Otacon's response was hesitant. Chief pulled her ears back and growled.

"Heterochromia." M.H. gushed. He put a hand to his chin and leaned forward to observe Chief. "And a rust colored coat. The white underbelly is not exactly white either, more of a soft peach color. An uncommon pattern for this breed of animal. You have quite the unique pet, Snake."

Snake pressed the gun against the man's back. "Enough of the chitchat. Arms out."

M.H. put his case down on the floor and held his arms level. Snake patted him down, head to toe, searching for concealed weapons. When Snake had found nothing he pointed the gun at the man again.

"Take a seat."

"Yes, of course."

M.H. sat in one of the chairs at the table, placing the briefcase on the floor next to him. He gestured to the seat across. "Won't you have a seat too?"

Snake pulled the chair out and sat on it sideways. He laid his arm on the table, gun still pointed at the man. M.H. kept on smiling. Snake was beginning to feel uncomfortable.

"Okay, here we are. Face to face just like you wanted." Snake started. "Now, it's time to start talking. I want to know everything - Who you are, who you're with and how you found me."

M.H. didn't speak right away, he was looking at Snake's burnt and damp letters, along with the opened Invitation he'd sent. "Certainly." He replied at last. M.H. turned around to face Otacon. "Doctor, you may have a seat as well. As you know, he cannot miss from this distance."

Otacon looked to Snake, unsure of what to do. Snake nodded. Otacon stepped out from the hallway, hand still on Chief's collar, and came into the kitchen, he stood between the both of them, though a little far away. Chief kept growling.

M.H. clapped his hands together. "So, let's start from the beginning. My name is Master Hand. I am the chief proprietor and founder of the Super Smash Brothers Tournament."

"Master Hand?" Snake repeated. It was an unusual name, but Snake focused more on the fact that this man was still speaking of the ridiculous tournament. Did he really plan on trying to convince him it was real? "So, you're the boss man, huh?"

"I am."

"A little foolish coming here alone isn't it? Aren't you too valuable of an asset to your organization to be so reckless?"

Master Hand chuckled. "I am not worried. Not even now. I always do my business alone."

"Curious way of doing business." Snake observed. Then he decided to humor the man. "What is this 'Super Smash Brothers' anyway? Kind of a strange name isn't it?"

Master Hand leaned forward, seeming to become excited, "It's something I came up with quite a few years ago. You see Snake, the universe is a very grand and curious place. Despite it's desolutude, life is teeming around every corner, even in the most unbelievable of places. If you think you are alone in the universe you are most certainly not."

Snake tilt his head, unsure of where this conversation was going. Is he going to start talking about aliens now?

"I've searched the cosmos," Master Hand went on, "looking for these walks of life. And I have found in them the greatest of warriors. Skilled fighters who have decimated their opponents and rose to levels of heroes or even legends. I had the idea of bringing these warriors together in one place, to face off against one another and see who is truly the strongest."

"Sounds like you've organized one hell of a cockfight." Snake commented.

Master Hand laughed. "I supposed you can look at it that way! But it's not illegal or even dangerous in any sense. It's all purely for fun. The Tournament has, over the years, become a well-funded and very organized event. Even an attraction for families and inter-dimensional tourists from all around the universe."

"A family friendly cockfight. That's a new one." Snake corrected. Master Hand laughed again.

"Has anyone ever told you, you have quite the sense of humor?"

"Once or twice." He absently replied, "Alright, last question: How did you find me?"

Master Hand sat back, seeming to prepare his next words."The same way I have found everyone else; by their energy."

Snake raised an eyebrow. "Their...energy?"

"After the end of each tournament, I go in search of new competitors, traveling the furthest nook and cranny of both time and space. Every living organism gives off their own wave of life energy. I look for the great and powerful ones, just like yours."

"Mine?"

"I came through your corner of space and was drawn to a massive energy. I followed the trail and found your tiny blue planet. I must say, I've been to many worlds, but the secrets of this one are some of the darkest I've ever seen." Master Hand leveled his eyes with Snake's when he said that. Snake stiffened.

Master Hand continued, "Never the less, I came across a few interesting people along the way, some of whom were unfortunately deceased but they all lead me to the same place; You. Alive and well, champion over those he had conquered."

Snake could see in his peripheral vision Otacon shift and look at him. Snake did not move.

"You are the strongest warrior in your world, Snake. Just the man I want in my tournament." Master Hand then smiled that creepy smile again.

Snake's lip twitched. He didn't show it, but his insides were starting to churn. Champion over those he'd conquered? The strongest warrior? Those words bit into him, deep into him. "I don't know what to say." He replied with mock flattery, though he wasn't able to hide the growing venom in his tone.

Master Hand interlocked his fingers, his posture becoming relaxed again. "I do hope you agree to participate. There will be plenty of rewards, some of which you may not be able to pass u-"

Snake had enough. With lightening speed he rose from his chair and pointed the gun back to Master Hand's head. Chief barked loudly at the sudden movement. Otacon held fast to her collar.

"Alright enough with the bullshit! You really expect me to believe all this?!" He growled. Master Hand didn't move, he didn't even react. "You're going to tell me the truth. Right now! Who are you working for? Did Ocelot send you? How the hell did you find me?!"

"Ocelot...?" Master Hand tilted his head to the side, almost like he was feigning ignorance. "...Revolver Ocelot? Ah yes, that fellow..."

"What did you say?"

"He did not send me. I came on my own. As I told you, I have my own business to-"

Snake jammed the gun barrel into the man's forehead. Chief kept barking and pulling against Otacon's grip, who could barely hold her back. "Save it! You'd better start talking now or I'll-"

"So, it will be the hard way then."

The SOCOM's chamber popped open and the bullet flew out, at the same time the magazine dislodged from the handle and clattered onto the table. Chief's barking suddenly ceased. Snake could barely react before he heard a voice in his ear.

"Behind you."

It all happened in an instant, but Snake's eyes processed every movement. He spun around in time to see Master Hand, arm drawn back like he was going to strike him. Snake lifted his arm to block the attack but the man's gloved hand passed right through it and planted in his chest. It was a simple, open palmed thrust, but Snake was sent flying. He expected to crash right through the wall of his home, but he just kept flying, far, far back before finally coming to a rolling stop.

"You bastard!" Snake roared, getting up. He pointed his SOCOM again only to see that his hands were empty. Master Hand was gone as well. And so was the entire room. Snake stood alone in a vast white void.

"Otacon! Chief!" He called out. His voice only echoed. Where the hell was he? What happened to the room? Where did everyone go?! Snake then noticed an object near him. It was Master Hand's briefcase.

"Do you know why the beings you call 'gods' never cross into your world, Snake?"

A disembodied voice broke the silence. Snake was startled, looking around for the source.

"Because their power is so great it would rip the very fabric of your world asunder. It takes a lot of energy to create planets, systems and stars, but even more to create life. Just like you, the Doctor, and even the animal."

Snake stared. The voice seem to come from the briefcase.

"Wh...what the hell is this place? What did you do to me?" He dared to ask it.

"Do you want to know?"

Snake did not answer, truthfully he felt afraid to. The briefcase suddenly burst open. Black glittering liquid erupted out, covering the floor. It rose fast, past Snake's ankles, up to his knees, engulfing his hips. He'd tried to run but it swallowed him in a matter of seconds, his shouts absorbed as well. Snake shut his eyes tight and held his breath. He rolled and tumbled with the waves, following a raging current that violently tugged him from one direction to another.

"Nothing. And then...everything."

Snake finally came to a stop. He dared to open his eyes, and when he did he was met with an unbelievable sight. Shining brightly and beautifully, Snake was floating among a dazzling nebula. There were billions of twinkling stars all around him. Snake gasped, some of the precious air he was holding escaped. Was this real? Was he hallucinating?

"It's okay to breathe."

A voice came from behind. Snake looked over his shoulder to see the back of Master Hand. He was floating upside down. Or...was he right side up?

Snake struggled to turn around, paddling his arms and legs as if he were swimming. He wanted to ask what was going on but he was hesitant to breathe.

Master Hand spoke. "I'll tell you what's going on. I've brought you to the final frontier. Beautiful, isn't it?"

Did he just read my mind? Snake thought.

"I did."

Snake blinked.

"You'll run out of breath soon."

Reluctantly, Snake inhaled though his nose...and breathed in oxygen.

"This a dream..." He said.

"Is it?"

"It has to be...No way this is real...I'm still asleep...I'm dreaming..." Snake rubbed his eyes.

"You are wide awake."

"Otacon? Chief?"

"They are fine."

Snake paddled his arms some more. He looked around at the orange-colored pillar, the gas towered high above and below him, higher than any sky scraper he'd ever seen. It glittered so beautifully. He was mesmerized.

"This is where I came from. I was born right here in the Cosmos. Me and my brother both."

"What...what are you?" Snake asked.

Master Hand ignored his question. "I love creation, Snake. I live for it. From what a man can make to the smallest being. Anything formed, molded, put together with one's hands..." He unclasp his gloved hands from behind his back and held them up. "It is something truly beautiful. I am a spirit of creation."

"Spirit?"

"An inter-dimensional being capable of creating great wonders. Your people call them Gods."

"You're a god?"

Master Hand once again did not reply. No way he was speaking to a god right now, Snake thought. On top of that was breathing in space. This was a dream.

"Still skeptical?" Master Hand asked.

Snake's body was suddenly jettisoned. He shot past the nebula. The light from the stars began to bend and distort around him, becoming so bright that Snake had to shut his eyes.

He crashed landed onto a hard surface, rolling a few times until he came to a stop. It took Snake a moment to get up. That landing hurt like hell. He looked at his new surroundings. He was now in a barren, smoldering wasteland. He coughed. The air was heavy with the smell of sulfur. Where the hell was he now?

"Snake!"

He whipped his head around to see Otacon running towards him. Snake never felt so relieved to see his friend. "Otacon! What happened?" He called.

Otacon shot his own rapid fire questions at him. "Where did you guys go? What was that white room? Where is Master Hand? And Chief? Are you alright?" Good to see he was in high spirits.

"The white room...I was there too. Then I was out in space."

"Space?"

Snake looked around. "Do you know where we are now?"

"The Primordial land."

Master Hand's distinct voice cut through the air. Snake and Otacon turned to see him standing a few yards away. In his arms he held a small puppy. Even from afar, Snake could recognize the pup's coat color instantly.

"Ch-Chief?"

Master Hand strode over and handed the dog to Snake. It's right eye was brown and the left eye was blue. This was definitely Chief. Snake looked up at the man, incredulous.

"She's not been harmed, I assure you." Master Hand said, "Cute isn't she? You never did see her as a pup."

Snake didn't know how to respond, he just held Chief to his chest protectivly. She whined.

"How are you doing all of this?" Otacon asked.

"I've told you, I am an inter-dimensional being. I can cross time and space, there are no barriers for me. Your animal was aging and now she's regained her youth. You two have crossed millennia and yet you remain unchanged." Master Hand pointed to the ground. "And where you stand now is your home Snake, about four billion years ago."

He and Otacon looked down at the smoldering red dirt.

Master Hand reached into the inner pocket of his suit and produced a peice of parchment. He handed it to Snake. It was the Invitation. "Will you hear me out now?" He asked.

Snake and Otacon exchanged glances. He was hesitant, but Snake nodded, as did Otacon.

Master Hand clapped his hands together again. "Excellent!"

The ground disappeared beneath their feet. Water suddenly rose and swallowed them all, but it disappeared just as quickly,as trees and greenery shot up, then replaced by old familiar walls that enclosed them. It all happened in an instant. At the same time, Chief, still in Snake's arms, grew to her adult size. Snake fell backwards from the sudden weight and landed hard on yet another surface, breaking something beneath him. Chief got up and scampered away to the bedroom, running over Otacon too.

"Oops. Sorry about that." Master Hand said and he helped both men to their feet. They were back in Snake's kitchen. "Now take a seat, please. Let us all talk."

But Snake couldn't sit, he'd landed on his dining room chair, smashing it to pieces.

"Oh right. I do apologize. Please try again." Master Hand said.

Snake was looking at the man when he spoke, he looked back at the chair and it was in one piece again. He and Otacon flinched. Snake hesitantly pushed it to the table and sat. Master Hand took his own seat. He reached into the pocket of his suit jacket and pulled out Snake's SOCOM. Master Hand slid it across the table, the grip facing Snake. Snake picked up the gun and examined it. The full magazine was back in the handle and a bullet was back inside the chamber. He looked at Master Hand briefly, then clicked the safety on and laid the SOCOM on the table, barrel facing away from the man. "Alright...Tell me about the Tournament." Snake said.

The business man positively beamed. He looked at Otacon. "Doctor, I urge you to have a seat with us, this may involve you as well."

"Me? What would I have to do with this?" Otacon squeaked.

"You will be cheering him on from the outside, will you not?"

"IF I say yes." Snake reaffirmed. Master Hand's expression did not change. Otacon pulled out another chair at the table and sat next to Snake.

"Alright, what would you like to know?" Master Hand asked.

"Start from the top, I guess." Snake replied.

Master Hand nodded. "This year will be the third installment of the Super Smash Brothers Competition. The Roster will host about thirty five competitors. Men and women, human and...not." Snake piqued an eyebrow. "The matches are set on a unique point system, instead of the traditional one-on-one elimination matches. I don't believe the usual way Tournaments work is very fair. Only matching up one person with another, and only once? If Fighter A can defeat Fighter B, but Fighter B cannot defeat Fighter C and yet Fighter A can? That doesn't sound very like very reliable results, does it?"

"Guess not." Snake replied.

"So, every competitor will be matched up against all others at least once, so those who advance through the Tournament will truly be the strongest."

"You seem to be obsessed with the strongest."

"It's not just that. Multiple matches means the competitors get paid more. You get paid more." Master Hand clarified, "As the letter mentioned, you will be paid for every match you undertake. And Team Matches are worth double the money."

"Teams?" Otacon chimed in.

"A person's own physical strength is not the only thing that makes him a formidable foe. Team Matches tests a warrior's full mentality, challenging them to think outside of their comfort zone in order to work with the different styles of others to win. Cunningness and strategy are important assets on the battlefield, as I'm sure you know this Snake. Teamwork is the ultimate test of skill." Master Hand finished.

The man had a point. Working with a partner would indeed challenge anyone. Although this could be considerably difficult for Snake. He didn't work with partners. Not ever.

Master Hand went on. "There will also be some items provided to assist you in matches. Melee weapons, enhancement devices, among other things."

"Provided weapons?" Snake wondered.

"Some competitors will bring their own weapons with them. Some even possess unique special abilities. Others fight only with their bare hands. Assisted weapons and items help to level the battlefield. Sometimes it's fair and, sometimes it's not." Master Hand shrugged.

"If they can bring weapons, wouldn't that mean people can get seriously hurt? You sure you're not running some kind of death match?" Snake asked.

Master Hand waved in dismissal. "Not at all. I assure you everything is safe."

"How?" asked Otacon.

"The wonders of technology! You see, I've perfected a type of Grid system, created from my own power, that will prevent any and all type of injury from occuring. Swords will not cut flesh, bones will not break, your skin will not even bruise." The man replied. Snake didn't understand it, but said nothing and let him continue. "But, that is to say you can still be affected in some way. The system is perfect for preventing serious injury and loss of life but you are still using your body so you may feel some soreness and strain from all the physical activity. I have plenty of doctors and chiropractors on hand if you are in need of them."

Snake was silent for a moment. "The letter said housing will be provided. I'll have to stay? For how long?"

"For every fighter, the time they are gone from their worlds varies. Some can disappear for years, others a little less time - A few months to a couple of weeks. One fighter is gone only twelve hours from their world. In comparison to your time however, I've calculated you to be gone for...at least a year." Master Hand finished.

"A year?!" Snake contended." No. Absolutely not. I can't be gone for whole year."

The man gestured for Snake to calm down. "I understand. This world is in a tipping balance of all out war, and you're the only one with a chance at stopping it. But for now, things are quiet, and they have been quiet for a while, have they not?" Snake still had an indignint look on his face. Master Hand leaned forward, speaking carefully. "I assure you Snake, if at any time you are needed back here, I will send you back, post haste, no questions ask. Your spot will even be held until you get back. But if you are gone for too long, you will unfortunately have to forfeit."

Snake was about to refuse again but was interrupted by Otacon. "But how would you be able to get him back in time? The letter said the Tournament was out...there." He waved his hand in the air, gesturing to the sky. "You yourself just said there's some kind of massive time difference too."

"By the means of a Wormhole, of course." Master Hand answered simply. Otacon gave him a funny look. "It's not science fiction Doctor, they really do exist. Wormholes are tears outside of time, existing between dimensions, connecting the past and present, much like I do. He may be quite a few million lightyears away from here, but as soon as you call Doctor, I can have Snake back within just a few hours. Think of Wormholes as the super highways of the universe."

Otacon's reply was unsure. "Oh...well...ok then."

Snake snorted. "This all sounds well and good, but I want to know why I should join. What's the grand prize of this whole thing?" And is it enough to take him away from his home for a year? Snake thought.

"There are in fact two grand prizes." Master Hand replied, holding up the corresponding number of fingers. "The Grand Prize for defeating all thirty-four other competitors is a very, very large sum of money. So much of it you'll never have to work again."

"Hm?"

"I'm talking about your bank account never, ever running out, no matter how much you spend. A thousand a day. A million. A billion. You will never go broke again."

Snake's lip twitched. "How the hell can you pull that off? Do you have THAT much money?"

"Wouldn't that be a little fishy? Snake all of a sudden having a ridiculous amount of money?" added Otacon.

"Not to worry, I'll have it figured out. IF Snake competes and wins that is." Master Hand replied cheekily.

"What's the other prize?" Snake asked, although he couldn't really image anything better than an unlimited amount of money. No one could pass that up. Not even him.

"After you defeat the other contestants, you'll have a chance to challenge me for the other grand prize." Master Hand smiled his creepy smile again.

Snake was surprised. "You're a fighter too?"

"I may be a man of business, but I do love a good fight myself. It can make one feel alive, don't you agree?" He asked. Snake shifted, uncomfortable with the man's statement, but he went on. "The last grand prize comes with a catch however; in order to even try your chances at it, you'll have to give the other prize up."

"Give up all that money? Must be some prize. What is it?" Snake asked.

"One wish."

For the second time, both Snake and Otacon looked at the man, their expressions changing into down right confounded ones. They both said the same thing at the same time: "Huh?"

"One wish." The man repeated.

Snake scoffed. "A wish?"

Master Hand spread his arms with a flourish. "Defeat me and I'll grant you your one greatest desire in the whole world. Is there someone you loved once but lost? You can have them back. Is there a loved one or a dear friend that's passed on to the other side, quite too soon? I can bring them back. Or maybe there's something wrong with you." Master Hand leveled his eyes with Snake's again. "Something that no amount of money or all the doctors in the world it can buy can fix. I can fix it for you."

Snake sat up in his seat a little straighter. He was hanging onto every word.

"Whatever it is you want most Snake, you can have it." The man finished.

Snake was silent. Otacon looked at him. He could tell they were both sharing the same train of thought. Could Master Hand really be able to raise the dead, or bring old lovers back together again? Did he have that kind of power?

Could he really...?

The business man was watching Snake, probably waiting for his reaction. But he remained quiet, consumed in thoughts. Otacon watched him too. Eventually, Snake leaned forward on the table, choosing his next words carefully. "You can fix what doctors can't. That's what you said, right?" Master Hand nodded. Snake took a deep breath. "...I have a virus in my body. One that will kill me someday. Although, you probably already knew that, didn't you? ...Can you remove it?"

"I can." Master Hand answered quickly. "Along with all those little machines flowing through your veins, if you want. Is that enough to convince you, Snake?"

He said nothing but looked down at the table again. "I'm...I'm not sure."

"Is there something you don't understand? Questions?" Master Hand prompted.

Snake shook his head. "It's just a lot to consider."

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, Snake. I suggest you take it." The man encouraged. "If you win, you can have enough money to fund your organization yourself. I know it's in danger of being defunded. Or, you can live free from the fear of death."

Snake sighed, his gesture signaling he was still uncertain. Eventually, Master Hand stood up from his chair, pushing it back under the table.

"How about you take a few days to think about it? It's still a while before the tournament starts, so you have plenty of time. I want you to carefully consider all of your options though, what you stand to gain and to loose. If you decline, then that's it. I won't bother you with an invitation again." He said. Snake nodded.

Master Hand picked up his briefcase from the floor. "I believe it's time for me to take my leave. Thank you for having me in your home Snake and," he pointed to the gun on the table. "for not blowing my brains out." The man laughed.

Snake furrowed his brow at the comment but escorted the man to the front door. Master Hand stepped onto the porch and turned to face Snake one last time.

"When you decide your answer, give me a call." He tapped his ear and smirked. Then he turned around and started down the concrete steps to the driveway. Snake heard a noise beside him and he looked down to see Chief, trying to squeeze her face between his leg and the doorway. She barked.

Snake looked back up to see that Master Hand had vanished. Snake stepped out onto his porch, looking all around the property. But the man had gone.

Chapter Text

A few days had passed since Snake's meeting with the unusual man calling himself Master Hand, and his invitation for Snake to join his even more unusual sounding tournament. The man had said some convincing words, and the possibility of the prizes sounded enticing, but Snake was still unsure about whether to accept the invitation or not.

For the third day in a row, Snake sat at his dining room table, cup of coffee in hand and the Invitation, open and facing up, on the table in front of him. Snake divided his attention between the letter and the TV in the living room, still tuned to the news channel. More PMC strikes in the middle east, and more revolutions beginning to rise in South America. Nothing really different. Which was both a relief, and a tragedy. He took a drink of his hot coffee.

The biggest factor that strayed Snake from reaching a decision was the amount of time he would be gone while competing. A whole year that left Ocelot without any opposition and the people of the world completely defenseless should the Russian decide to resurface in his absence. This was a big a risk to take.

"I assure you Snake, if at any time you are needed back here, I will send you back, post haste, no questions asked." Those words from Master Hand ran through his mind. It offered him some assurance, but could he really depend on this so-called safety net?

Snake picked the letter up in one hand. He'd read it so many times he knew it by heart now.

A room would be provided for him to stay in. How big would it be, he wondered? Master Hand said the Tournament had become well funded, so he'd venture to guess it was of a decent size. He'd be fed, probably three square meals a day, the finest in cuisine food. Which honestly sounded a hell of a lot better than anything he'd been cooking himself at home. Not that he was a bad cook, he thought.

There was a hospital and medical staff, the man mentioned he had chiropractors too. So there would be no worries if Snake injured himself, he'd be taken care of. And lastly, there was the promise of some forms of activities and entertainment during downtime. So, there would definitely be a break in the Tournament. That's probably why it was going to last so long. There would be thirty-five competitors, all fighting each other, more than once. Snake was used to battle but even he would get crabby if he had to fight the same people over and over again with no break.

What kind of activities was there going to be, he wondered. Was it anything people did here? Golf? Racquetball? A nice dip in the pool with the synchronized swim team? When he thought about it like that, the Tournament was beginning to sound more like some kind of country club. Maybe it was something more casual, like a movie theater or even a park. Then again, Master Hand said the Tournament was composed of life from all around the universe. Alien life. These activities could be something he's never heard of.

And what would the other competitors look like? Snake thought about the xenomorphs from the Alien movies, and the tentacled, mind-reading invaders from Independence Day. What about the Predators? The three-legged blood drainers from War of the Worlds? Or would the whole place look like the cantina scene out of Star Wars? He shook his head. No, those were man-made ideas. Just the imagination of story writers and movie makers. No one knew what aliens actually looked like. Well, maybe except for the purported little gray aliens, with their large heads and dead black eyes. That thought started to make him uncomfortable.

Going back to his previous musing, it wasn't too far fetched to think these 'activities' could be something entirely new to him, which was a bit exciting. It was all beginning to sound...nice. Like some sort of...really weird vacation.

Riiing! Riiing!

His Codec chimed. Otacon was calling again. He had been phoning and coming over a lot more since Master Hand's visit, to ask if he had made a decision, and, though he tried poorly to hide it, convince Snake to take up the offer. He answered.

"Hey Snake, did you come to a decision today?" Came his friend's voice.

"Not yet. What's your compelling argument this time?" Snake asked.

Otacon hesitated. "Well...it's not like an opportunity like this comes up everyday, you know."

"Uh huh. You've said that."

"What about the place you'll be staying at? Don't any of those perks sound the least bit interesting to you?"

"You've said all that too."

The engineer sighed. "Its been four days Snake, haven't you decided by now?"

He didn't answer. Snake watched Chief as she wriggled around on the carpet in the living room, making noise. Snake thought about her as well. He'd be away from Chief for a long time, longer than he'd ever been. She needed her medicine and no one could cook her steak the way he did. Snake remembered how she looked as a pup, when Master Hand was flinging him through time and space. She was so fat and impossibly fluffy. He never saw her as a puppy.

"Snake?"

He sighed too.

"Come on, what's stopping you?"

"I don't know..." He admitted.

"Is it the being gone for a year? Master Hand said he could bring you back at any time, and quickly. You know I'll keep you updated. I'll phone right away if anything happens."

"Doesn't mean I can just drop everything and go."

Otacon paused for a moment before he spoke again. "I suppose not. But what reason would Master Hand have to keep you there?"

"More importantly, why did he have to come now, of all times?" Snake grumbled.

"I'd consider it a blessing. Maybe now is the best time."

Snake ran out of things to argue with the man. Or, if he was being honest with himself, excuses to make.

Otacon's voice had a change in tone. "Snake...listen, I know you have doubts. This whole thing sounds insane and too good to be true, and maybe it is but...take a chance and take the offer. Forget about Ocelot, forget about the Patriots and forget about Olga's child for a moment. Do this one thing for yourself. This may be your only chance to remove FOXDIE, because if you don't you could die before you ever have the chance to save anybody. You'll never see a world free from Big Boss' design."

Snake raised his head.

"You're not the only one who lives in fear of your death, you know. You really think I want to see the day when it happens? When my best friend dies right before my eyes and the only thing I can do is watch? I've already seen it with Emma. I...I won't go through that again." Otacon's voice was resolute.

Snake looked back at Chief. She rubbed her face on the carpet and flipped onto her back again, scratching an itch.

"You've been lucky all these years, but you're the one whose always said luck can only last for so long. I'm begging you Snake. Take the offer. Please."

He hadn't really thought about it before. About the people he would leave behind when FOXDIE finally took him. All his life he's never really had anyone to hold onto, and when he finally had people that mattered enough to him, he'd always lost them. Master Miller. Frank Jaeger. A couple of his foster parents. He was always left alone again. That is, until his mission at Shadow Moses where he gained the most unlikely friend he thought he'd ever have.

"You still there?" Otacon asked.

Chief lie still on the carpet now, done with her wiggling. She yawned.

"Hold on. I gotta make a call." Snake replied.

He ended the transmission, but not before Otacon warned Snake to call right back. He couldn't miss the relief in his friend's tone.

Snake dialed another frequency. It rang only once and then Master Hand's distinct voice came through. "Ah. I was beginning to wonder when you'd call. Have you come to a decision, Snake?"

"Yeah. I'm in."

There came a joyful chuckle on the other end. "Excellent!"

Chapter Text

Snake opened the door to his closet, brushing aside his hanging clothes to reach the back. He grasped the handle of a large trunk and pulled it out into his bedroom, tossing off the multiple pairs of boots stacked on top. He unlocked the latches and lifted the lid.


Master Hand had given Snake a few days, or however many he needed, to pack. Clothes, shoes, toothbrush, the essentials when going on a trip. This was a routine Snake was familiar with, when he and Otacon tracked down Bootleg Metal Gears and had to travel across the globe, sometimes for weeks on end, to destroy them.


Snake asked for more information on the Tournament, about what weapons he could bring or what he even needed to wear. Master Hand smugly answered that he'd already had the means to take care of his 'uniform' himself. He also said Snake could bring his SOCOM, but that he wouldn't need anything else. When Snake asked why, the odd man would only cryptically answer that he'd already taken care of everything else.


Snake looked over the contents of the trunk. Inside were both of his previous tactical 'sneaking suits' from his missions at Shadow Moses and both the Tanker and Big Shell Facility. Those kind of missions, along with his unique set of skills, required a special kind outfit to be worn, not the usual military fatigues of the average soldier. Something that was especially crafted for the situation.


Shadow Moses was an installation on the Fox Island chain near the arctic circle. So a suit was constructed to both insulate heat, prevent frost bite and still protect from enemy fire. The Tanker and Big Shell were more domestic places, facilities in the New York harbor. The weather wasn't a threat but it was important not to make a sound while sneaking indoors, where sound bounced off walls. Another suit was specially made to muffled his movements.


Snake had alternated between the two suits while Philanthropy was active. The blue colored insulating suit for colder climates, and the gray colored muffling suit for indoors.


He pulled the blue suit out of the trunk. This one was the older of the two. It had started to show wear - the edges were fraying, some color was fading and there were spots of poorly sewn stitching that covered up old bullet holes and reattached fabric that had torn apart or come undone. He wasn't much of a seamstress, but the thread still held together. The suit could go a few more rounds.


Snake touched the other suit. This one was practically brand new. There wasn't a lot of wear and, aside from the occasional loose thread, nothing had frayed at all. The light Kevlar was still intact and even held some sheen to it. Now, which one should he take?


He looked between both suits. The blue suit was definitely more sturdy. The Kevlar material was thicker, meaning it could withstand harder blows and impacts, but the layers could quickly overheat him while he was fighting. The suit was also tight and constricting on his body, which would definitely hinder his movements.


The other suit was more flexible due to the thinner, light weight Kevlar. It may not have the heavier protection that the other suit did, but it was much, much easier to move in. Snake would be in front of his opponents this time not trying to stay out of their sight. And if it's one thing he knew, it's that speed beats power almost every time. Other opponents may wear thicker armor, and be twice as strong, but it won't mean a thing if they couldn't catch him.


Snake looked over the blue suit one more time. He touched the armored shoulder plate, the puffy sleeves and the bullet proof collar. He remembered blinding sheets of whirling snow and drifts so deep it when up to his knees. He remembered the stone cold walls and the echoes of the soldier's footsteps as they patrolled the halls of Shadow Moses. The sounds of the roving cameras and the blips from the gaurd's walkie talkies. And the first time he laid his eyes upon the Goliath machine REX. How it looked so stoic and menacing. A death machine.


Then, he remembered the ravens. They were every where. In the trees, in the scaffolding of the buildings, even in the shaft of the massive underground elevator he took to reach the hanger where REX was stored. It was like they followed him every where. Their eyes solid black, their cries echoing into his being.


He'd worn the suit to other places since then, but he always went back to Shadow Moses whenever he saw it.


He pulled the gray colored suit out of the trunk and placed it on the floor, then rummaged around for the rest of the pieces - a pair of metal plated gloves, elbow pads, knee pads, leg-mounted gun holster and a tactical vest with fishnet harnessing with safety straps that looped around the thighs. Lastly came the specialized infiltration boots. They too were light weight and muffled the sounds of his footsteps. He took all the pieces and placed them into a separate duffel bag.


He placed the bag next to his other luggage that was ready to go. He looked around the room for anything else he might have forgotten. He spotted picture frames on his dresser. Master Hand suggested taking personal items with him, anything of comfort that'll make him feel at home, since he'd be going far away for a quite a while. He saved packing the personal items for last.


He took a framed photo of himself and Chief, taken back in 2003 at the starting line of the Iditarod. Next, a photo Otacon had taken of the both of them from late 2006. He was making a kind of weird face in the photo.


Snake rummaged through all of his dresser drawers, making sure to gather all of the treasured cigarette packs he could find. He wasn't too sure if the venue would even sell cigarettes, at least not..."Earth cigarettes"...but it was a safe bet to doubt it. But even with all the packs he'd found, there was no way they were going to last him an entire year, and he doubted the U.N. would clear him purchasing a years worth of cigarettes right now. He didn't want to put his allotted bank account in danger, as tempting as it was.


Well, he'd learned how to ration food from his time in the military, cigarettes weren't much different. He had no choice but to try.


In the midst of searching through a cluttered drawer, Snake came across another old photo. He froze when he saw it. Carefully, he pulled it out from underneath the corner of junk. It was an old picture of him and a young woman with short, flaming red hair. They were both arm in arm and smiling. Snake quickly stuck the picture back underneath all the junk and closed the dresser drawer. That was something he needed to be away from.


Packing the personal items was the last thing he needed to do. Snake went over his mental checklist one last time, going though his bags of belongings again and making sure everything was there.


He was ready to go.


 

Otacon nervously paced around his living room. Snake sat at the dining table, watching the man go back and forth, fiddling with his electronics and chewing on his hand.

"Will you knock that off?" Snake growled. "I'm getting dizzy watching you."


"I can't help it. What does Master Hand want with MY equipment?" Otacon sighed.


Snake had phoned the mysterious man that he was packed and ready to go, but Master Hand requested that Snake to meet him at 'the Doctor's house.' Snake asked why and Master Hand merely stated that he needed to 'establish certain connections there.'


This sent the engineer into a bit of a frenzy. Otacon had sensitive information on his many hard drives, information he'd hacked from the Pentagon and the Patriots' many third party databases. There were also his own blue prints for gadgets and equipment he'd designed to help Snake in missions. If Master Hand went near any of these hard drives, Snake would immediately shut the man down. If this is what he was truly after this entire time, Snake would not hesitate to take him out. Space and Time distorting powers or not. Though, Snake would admit he'd feel like a fool for believing the Tournament was real and disappointed that there really was no way to save his life. Or that he'd become excited at the thought of fighting again. But he shook that off quickly.


They heard the sound of a car then, pulling into the driveway outside. Chief started to bark loudly from the other duplex and Otacon finally stopped his annoying pacing. Soon there came a knock at the front door. "Who is it?" Otacon called out.


"Master Hand, good Doctor." Came the distinct voice from the other side.


Snake and Otacon glanced at each other. The soldier nodded. Still fidgeting and mumbling his worries, Otacon opened the front door. There stood the man with the same creepy smile from a few days ago.


"Good afternoon gentlemen." His voice was quite chipper.


"Er, good afternoon." Otacon awkwardly replied.


"Would you mind if some subordinates of mine came in? We'll just need to see your television set." Master Hand asked.


"We?"


Snake stood from his chair, moving to get a better view of the front door. Otacon looked at something behind the man. "Uh, sure. You can all come in." His tone was a little wary.


In came Master Hand followed by three people - two men and a woman. They all stood in the living room together, perfectly side by side in a straight line. The two men and one woman looked curiously at the interior of the house. Snake studied the strangers briefly, then went to the window to peek outside. Out on the lawn were more random people, two more men and two more women, they were unloading boxes from the trunk of a black, limosine-esque car parked in the driveway. Chief kept barking.


"Gentleman, this is my team of helpers. They'll be the ones setting up the equipment." Master Hand introduced, motioning a glove-clad hand to them. Snake turned his attention to the people again.


"What equipment exactly? What do you need to..." Otacon's voice trailed off as he stared at one of the men, "Hey...is that... Is that Mike? From the Supermarket?"


Snake looked more closely at the man with the dark hair. He recognized him as a cashier from the Parrish's local super market.


"Oh, you know this fellow?" Master Hand asked. The man named Mike furrowed his brow in confusion. He looked at Master Hand. "I just borrowed a few faces from around town. But seeing as you know him..." Master Hand turned to the man. "800 would you...?"


"Mike" nodded and then his entire head "flickered", as if it were a channel changing on a TV, and his face was now a completely different man. Snake and Otacon jumped back.


"Do you know this fellow?" Master Hand asked, gesturing to them. When Snake and Otacon didn't answer, he continued, "Good then."


"Wait, wait!" Snake stuttered, "What the hell was that just now?!"


The smiling man chuckled. "More of my work. I've got to blend in to the indigenous here and so have they."


"They?"


"Ah yes, you really should see them. You'll be seeing them all over the Venue after all." Master Hand responded. "You may even have to fight a few in the Tournament."


Snake didn't understand what the man was talking about. Master Hand nodded to his people. The stranger's entire bodies flickered and their human fasages' disappeared. Their bodies were now a shiny and reflective metallic, they had no faces, only a bright white orb centered inside of a black concave nook. Their hands, parts of their feet and their midsections were replaced by the same glowing white orbs. One of them was considerably shorter than the others and was colored yellow with two horns sticking out of the sides of it's head. Another of these metallic beings was colored red with huge, dramatically pointed shoulders that stuck up past it's head. And the third was daintier, colored a dark blue, and had an appendage hanging off the back of it's circular head that kind of resembled a ponytail. All of their bodies had pointed, geometrical shapes to them.


"What...are they?" Snake choked out.


Master Hand held up a hand dramatically, "These are my creations. Just as some cosmic force created you and your human race, these beings are of my creation. I call them Alloys." All three of these "Alloys" waved or nodded at him, mumbling words of hello. Snake was in too much shock to say anything back, all he did was give a weak wave. Otacon blinked. He had never seen actual aliens before with his own eyes. The Alloys all donned their people visages again.


"Snake...!" Otacon whispered, stepping closer to him. "What have we gotten ourselves into?" But Snake was unable to answer him.


Master Hand clapped his hands together. "Alright guys. Let's continue. I'll need to see your TV Dr. Emmerich."


"T-the TV?"


"So you can watch the Tournament!" The man smiled. "All family and friends of contestants get to watch, for free of course. It's a courtesy. The equipment I've brought are all the connections for it."


"I...I can watch? Really?" Otacon gasped.


A bustle of people entered the house then, carrying the boxes Snake had seen them unloading from the black car.


"Of course, this isn't just any old routine setup like installing cable or satellite. These installations are a bit more...sophisticated." Master Hand finished.


"Which TV do you want it on?" One of the alloy-men asked the engineer.


"Uh...the living room one's fine." Otacon pointed to the flat screen in front of the couch. The people set the boxes down by the TV, opened them, and began to pull out all sorts of multicolored cables. There was a sudden loud thump from the rooftop. Snake looked up and Otacon took off outside. "Hey! What are they doing up there?!" He cried.


Master Hand, along with Snake, followed the man out. Three more alloy-people were on the roof, setting up what looked like a giant, gray colored, square traffic cone, right next to the many antennae Otacon already had on his roof. They too tossed down the same multicolored cables from the roof.


"They are just setting up the receiver." Master Hand said simply.


"That doesn't look like any receiver I've ever seen." Otacon commented. Master Hand chuckled in amusement.


"Your satellites are only designed to send and receive signals from other satellites orbiting the planet, a distance of about a few hundred thousand feet. This receiver is designed to catch deep space signals, sent from light years away, without interruption. It's about, oh I'd say, three hundred billion times the strength of your Hubble Telescope." Otacon looked at the man. "With this, you'll also be able to keep in radio communication with Snake as well." Master Hand tapped his ear, signaling that we was talking about the Codec system.


"R-Really?" The engineer was in awe.


"Congratulations Doctor," Master Hand pat him on the back. "You are now the proud owner of the most powerful satellite to ever exist on the Earth to date...for now. And not to worry, this receiver comes with it's very own high powered jamming signal. No one from your government or any other agency will know you have this."


"Oh, well that's...that's pretty neat." Otacon said.


Master Hand turned to Snake. "Now then, are all of your belongings packed?" He asked.


Snake nodded. "Ready to go."


"Good. The Alloys will help you with your things and escort you to the Departure point. I'm going to go on ahead. The next time we'll see each other will be at the Venue." The man stuck out his gloved hand to Snake and he shook it. "Thank you again for agreeing to participate. This will be an experience you will always treasure."


"Thanks for the invitation." Snake replied.


Chief barked loudly from the screen of Snake's kitchen door. The alloy-person, who Chief had spotted, dropped their equipment, startled by the barking. Snake glanced back at the scene then back to Master Hand, but the man had disappeared. He and Otacon looked around, but he was nowhere in sight.


It didn't take long to get the connections to Otacon's TV all set up. An alloy-person helped him to set up the channel, which Snake would have liked to see if it hadn't been for Chief, who went into a barking frenzy whenever any one of them approached his house. None of the alloy-people wanted to get near the duplex, much less inside to grab his things. So Snake had to bring his luggage out to them. They loaded it all into the trunk of the black car.


Snake rubbed and scratched the sides of Chief's face. "You be a good girl, okay? Watch over Otacon, keep the nerd safe." Snake smiled, sadly. Chief whined. She knew he was going away again. He always gave her this sort of goodbye when he was leaving on another mission. But this time, Snake would be gone a lot longer than a week or two. Chief pushed her head against him and licked his face. Snake hugged her tight. "I'll be back. For sure this time." Snake let go of Chief and she looked up at him, still whining. He turned to Otacon. "Don't forget her arthritis pills. One pill every morning. Stuff it inside a treat so she'll eat it."


"I won't forget." Otacon said. They both stood in the doorway of Otacon's duplex for a moment, looking out at the black car waiting in the driveway.


"Guess this is it." Otacon said. "...You have to win Snake. Whatever it takes." Snake grunted his acknowledment. Otacon pat his shoulder. "Good luck out there. I'll be watching and rooting for you the whole way. Have fun buddy. And uh, try to stay out of trouble out there." He smiled.


Snake chuckled and pat Otacon on the arm. "I'll call you when I get there." Snake took a single step out onto the concrete pathway when Otacon stopped him.


"Wait, Snake. Take this with you." He handed Snake a small, black colored, metal cylinder from his pocket. Snake examined it. "It's a portable ash tray. I designed it myself. If you're gonna smoke, you'll at least have somewhere to put your cigarettes."


Snake weighted it in his hand. "It's a little heavy."


"Of course, it has sand in it."


Snake motioned the cylinder to him. "Thanks Otacon." His friend nodded and Snake walked down the concrete path, putting the portable ash tray in his pocket and waving his hand in a "See you later" gesture. Chief whined loudly.


One alloy-person waited for him at the back of the car. He held the door open and Snake stooped slightly to get in.


Caw!

He stopped. That bird cry was unusually loud. Snake looked back to the duplexes to see a single, black raven perched on his roof. It looked down at him, quiet and still. It crowed loudly one more time.


"Mr. Snake?"


The alloy-person put a hand on his arm. Snake lingered his sight on the bird a little longer before stepping inside the vehicle. The door was closed behind him.


The inside was surprisingly spacious. The car looked limosousine-esque on the outside and was nearly like one on the inside, minus an alcohol bar and a partition window separating them from the driver, there was only a solid wall there and a row of seats on both sides of the cabin. How was the driver supposed to see the passengers in the back? The alloy-people who set up the equipment sat in both rows.


All of their eyes fell on him as he sat down in the back row by himself. This made him uncomfortable, he didn't like being stared at.


"Okay, we're all set." One of them said. Another alloy-person, sitting on the very end of the seats, banged twice on the wall, probably signaling they were ready to go.


"What about the other guy outside?" Snake asked.


"That was one of the pilots. He was waiting for you." One of them answered.


"Pilot?" He repeated. Did they mean to say driver?


The car started. Snake scooted to the end of the seat to look out the window as the car reversed out of the driveway. Otacon was still standing on his porch, hands in his pockets. Chief's ears were going up and down, and up and down. She howled loudly. Otacon gave one last wave and shouted something Snake couldn't hear. He gave his friend, and dog, a small wave back. He kept watching until their duplexes were out of sight.


 

The atmosphere in the cabin was stiff and uncomfortable. None of the alloy people spoke, to him or to each other. Snake had asked how they were planning to get to the Tournament site, since it was supposed to be out in space. An alloy-person, a woman, replied that they were currently heading toward the Departure Point, where they'll began the ascension out into the atmosphere. Where they were going to take some kind of spaceship?


The Departure Point was only a ten minute drive. The car had taken South Road down southwest of the island. If Snake recalled the region right, they had to be around Spittal Pond, or on the Reserve itself, seeing as the car had stopped on a rocky beach, and he swore the car plowed right through a fence on the way here.


"This is it." One of the alloy-people spoke.


This was their destination? The beach? This was too short of a drive, Snake had thought they might have driven up to LF Wade International Airport to depart. Aircraft taking off there wasn't anything too suspicious. Bermuda didn't exactly have a Cape Canaveral to launch from, but going into space from a nature reserve? Wasn't that begging for attention?


Snake looked out of the window. He expected to see some kind of make shift launch pad, with an Umbilical-type tower holding onto an upright shuttle, or at least some spaceship out of a sci-fi movie parked on the beach. But there was nothing outside. Where was this spaceship?


Movement in the cabin caught his attention. All the alloy-people sat up straight, adjusting themselves, seeming to get ready for something. A sharp feedback noise crackled from the ceiling. Snake flinched. He didn't even know there was a speaker in the cabin.


"Alright passengers, this is your Pilot. We're now preparing for ascent into the atmosphere. Please stay in your seats at all times. And if you are feeling sick during take off, there are vomit bags underneath your chairs. Do not unbuckle your safety belts at any point until you are told it is safe to. I won't be responsible for any horsing around back there." The speaker cut out.


What was this guy talking about? "Wait, hang on. What does he mean by that? Where's the space ship?" Snake asked.


The alloy-people all looked at him, a man responded, "Mate, this is the spaceship."


"Huh?"
"This is the Courtesy Shuttle. Just like we have to blend in to the population, this ship has the capability to transform it's appearance as well."


"The limo?"

Before Snake could asked any more questions, several black straps suddenly shot forth from his seat, one behind each shoulder, on the sides of his hips and from up between his legs, and buckled together. The straps adjusted themselves and anchored him to the seat. The same straps came up from the seats of each alloy-person and secured them as well, though the didn't seem fazed by it. A loud, low hum resounded beneath his feet. Mechanical whirs and clicking noises came from within the walls of the vehicle.


"What the hell is happening?" Snake looked around the cabin to see the inside had begun to change. The ceiling rose and sloped downward while the sides of the car widened and the windows shrunk down into small circles. The floor changed too, becoming a different texture and taking on a tiled appearance. The interior changed color from its dark grey to a polished off-white. The long seats the alloy-people sat in split into single chairs, and turned them all to face forward. Snake clutched to his own seat in surprise as it too shrunk down to fit only him. The inside of the limo had begun to look like the inside of a passenger plane now, with him centered behind everyone.


The humming noise grew louder and Snake tried to look outside through the small windows but they were obscured by a billowing cloud of dirt and sand. There was a small jerk and Snake could feel the entire car - or whatever it was now - lift off the ground, rising higher and higher.


"Hang on!"


Snake looked back to the alloy-people. One of them was looking back at him, presumably the one who spoke. Snake gripped the new hand rests of his chair tightly. He had never feared air travel, he did his fair number of parachute jumps when he was with the Green Berets, but to his credit, he'd never imagined he'd be going out into space. He felt like reaching for that vomit bag right about now.


The vehicle turned in direction. The shuttle took off and Snake was pressed into his seat. The cabin shook, all he could do was hold onto the armrests for dear life. He kept his eyes on one of the circular windows. The passing grey clouds of the overcast sky obscured the view until the shuttle rose above the clouds and the sky turned a beautiful, cerulean blue, eventually, fading into complete black. The shaking intensified and outside Snake could see the white wing of the shuttle turn red as the ship ripped through the thermosphere. None of it felt real to him.


The shaking eventually softened and time seems to stop for a moment. Ever so softly, Snake's arms rose into the air. He could see the long hair of the alloy-women lift up too. The gravity had gone. The speaker's feedback noise sounded again.


"Attention Passengers, this is your Pilot. We've safely exited the Planet's Atmosphere. Artificial Gravity will initiate in a moment. Estimated time of Arrival to destination is about four hours. Please remain buckled in your seats until the Gravity activates. After that, you are free to move about." The speaker cut off.


A slight hum sounded in the cabin and Snake's arms dropped. He wiggled his fingers and flexed his arms as the feeling of weight returned to them. He unbuckled the seatbelt and immediately went to one of the small windows to look outside.


There it was - the Earth. It was more beautiful and blue than any picture had ever done it justice. The puffy white clouds draping across the surface. The glittering ocean. And the tiny islands peeking out from the deep blue waters, like newborns of the planet, havens to life. It was breathtaking. Snake stared out of the window, unable to take his eyes off of the great planet. In that moment he'd never felt more small and insignificant than he did now, every part of his life felt like nothing compared to the planet that had been alive for four billion years.


Why the hell would any one want to turn this into a wasteland of war and death? He thought.


There came a voice from behind and a soft tap on his shoulder. "Excuse me Mr. Snake."


Snake looked back and instantly flinched. Standing there was a blue alloy female, her human disguised dropped. He was shocked for a second time, not used to her metallic true form yet.


"If you need to go to the bathroom, the restroom is in the back. Also if you are hungry, there are snacks in the fridge." She said.


Fridge? Snake looked where she was pointing. The entire back half of the shuttle, the half directly behind his chair, had morphed into a small break room. He hadn't even noticed it when he got out of his seat.


"Oh, uh...thanks." He mumbled. She nodded her round head. Snake returned to look out of the window when he spotted another large white ship, drifting close to the shuttle. And then another. And another.


"Hey. What're those out there?" He asked. The blue alloy had walked away but came back to his side. She took a look out of the window too.


"Oh. Those are cargo ships." She replied.


"Cargo ships? What're they carrying?"


The alloy stood back upright. "Supplies from your planet. You see, whenever we gain a new competitor, we always gather supplies from that participant's home world. It usually consists of food and medical equipment, among other things."


"What do you guys need all that for?" He asked.


"Master Hand collects these items to help develop our world. He takes seeds, which add new vegetation, and sometimes animals if they produce things like milk and honey. He'll take medical tools and medicines to help us advance our practices too. Even building materials and parts of the local architecture to improve the look and function of the buildings back home. It also creates a melding of cultures from through out the universe." She finished.


"Master Hand left before we did. Is he on one of those ships?" Snake asked.


"Master Hand is out there." Came another voice. Snake turned around. A red alloy stood by another window on the opposite side of the ship. "He'll be guiding us back home. Come and see him if you want to." The alloy suggested.


Snake was puzzled. He went to the other window the red alloy stood next to and peered out. Out there, in the infinite darkness, was a gigantic orb-like light lingering admist the cargo ships. "That's him?"


"It is. Atleast, that's the form he takes when traveling in the vaccume of space. You'll get to see his true form when we arrive at the Venue." The red alloy replied.


"What does he really look like?" Snake inquired.


The alloy did not have a face, so if he was making any kind of expression Snake couldn't tell, but it's tone of voice sounded a tiny bit smug. "You'd have to see it with your own eyes. But don't worry, it's nothing you haven't looked at your whole life." It said.


"You mean, he doesn't look like you guys?"


"Nope. Not in the slightest. He never has."


Snake was really confused now. And what did the red alloy mean by he was nothing Snake hadn't looked at his whole life?


The bright orb outside began to drift forward, and all the cargo ships followed. The engines of their shuttle rumbled and the ship followed the embargo. Now would begin the four hour journey to reach the place. At least four hours Earth-time, he hoped. Time varied everywhere in space. Their hours could span days for all he knew.


Oh well. At least there was food.


 

The speaker crackled again. "Attention Passengers. This is your Pilot. We are now on approach to the Wormhole Gateway. Please take your seats and strap yourselves in. Don't forget to secure any equipment or else they could become distorted upon arrival. If you are feeling sick, again, vomit bags are underneath your chairs." The speaker cut off.


Snake got up from his chair to look outside again. There were approaching a wormhole, an actual wormhole, he had to see it for himself. Outside, the cargo ships reflected the light that Master Hand emanated. Snake squinted his eyes, trying to see anything else out there. He noticed the stars in the distance flickered. He looked harder. There was definitely some kind of distortion that was bending the light coming from the distant stars, but he couldn't make out what it was. It was then that Master Hand's light had seemingly stopped.


He floated there, his intense brightness lit up whatever distortion was out there, it looked like ripples. Suddenly, one of the cargo ships shot forward, stretching out like a rubber band being pulled at one end. The back end of the ship slingshotted into the darkness and disappeared completely. Snake's jaw dropped. He was tapped on the shoulder again.


"Mr. Snake, you might want to take your seat now. We'll be going through the gateway soon." It was the red alloy again. Snake nodded to him, taking one last look outside, seeing another ship being stretched and disappearing in the same manner.


He buckled himself in, starting to feel nervous. Going out into space was new enough for him, going through a wormhole was entirely something else. What would happen? How would the sensations feel? The alloys all sat in their seats too and secured their seatbelts.


The speaker cracked again, a different voice spoke, probably the co-pilot. "Last call. Last call. Please secure your seatbelts. Artificial Gravity shut off in 3...2..."


The humming noise sounded again. Snake felt his whole body become weightless once more, though he kept his arms on the armrests. The blue alloy's pony tail-like appendeges lifted up too.


"Standby. Approaching Gateway in 3...2..."

Okay, Snake thought, gripping the armrests, here we go.

The air was the first thing he'd felt distort and then everything else followed. The cabin stretched forward and suddenly, Snake was overcome with an intense sensation, like someone had grabbed a hold of his ribcage and spine, trying to pull them right out of his body. He shut his eyes and opened his mouth to yell, but no noise came out. He wanted to see what was happening around him, to be able to describe it later, but the sensations his body was going through was all he could focus on. He felt like he was slowly being pulled apart. Even though his eyelids, he could see and feel an intense, bright light.


Suddenly his body jerked forward, and the awful feeling instantly ceased. Snake panted heavily, still white-knuckling the armrests. The speaker crackled on again.


"Attention Passengers, this is your Pilot. We have reentered Odintenn. Descent time will be about twenty mintues so please stay seated and- "


BAM! There was a loud noise behind Snake that made him jump.


"Damn it. Who didn't secure the fridge?" An alloy asked.


"Oh sorry, that was me. Oh, but hey look! It made it back okay." Another replied.


Snake didn't pay any attention to what the alloys where chattering about, he was focusing on his body settling down from the horrible sensations, unfortunately it was settling down on a nauseating feeling. Snake quickly unbuckled himself and reached for the vomit bag. Every alloy in the cabin reacted with groans of disgust.


"Always happens with the newbies. I'll never get used to it."


 

He was supposed to remain in his seat but Snake was back at the window again, though, it seemed more walls of clouds obstructed his view of the outside again. He didn't understand, shouldn't they be out in space still?


The ship descended below the cloud line and Snake beheld a gorgeous sight. A dark, vast ocean, as far as the eye could see, and in the middle of it lay a single island. There was a snow capped mountain on the far east side, trees that bordered the northern and southern edges, and a fairly large desert that formed into a canyon. There was another, smaller mountain range inland. Thick gray clouds blanketed the sky and Snake's mood instantly lifted. The entire island was covered in snow. He missed winter, it never snowed in Bermuda.


The ship continued to descend. Snake started to see roads and small buildings on the western side of the island, along the coastline. The ship turned slightly, headed towards the smaller mountain range. It became clear that these mountains were concealing another industrialized area, these structures all gated off, with roads connecting every building. All those roads converged into one that lead to the largest individual structure of them all, a red bricked building, in the shape of a short, squared 'C'. It was a few stories tall. The front of the building had a wide curved staircase leading down to a concrete fountain in the center of a roundabout drive way.


A symbol was painted on the rooftop of the red brick building, Snake deduced it to be the equivalent of a landing motif, since the ship was heading right for it. The engines hummed louder as the shuttle hovered above the rooftop and began to descend slowly, kicking up clouds of snow.


The ship's engine cut off. The Pilot came over the speaker one last time but Snake didn't hear a word because all of the alloys unbuckled their seat belts and started to chat noisily, mostly sighs and thanks for returning home safely. They all scuttled around the cabin, propping up the mini fridge that had fallen over and fiddling with other things. Snake sat in his seat, unsure of what to do. There came a pneumatic hiss and a hatch opened, a cold wind blew in from outside. Snake shivered. His jacket was packed away.


"Please, come this way Mr. Snake. It's time to disembark." One of the smaller, yellow alloys appeared at his side, motioning him to the open hatch. Snake got up and followed the alloy outside.


The wind was a strong, probably the downdraft from the mountains. Snake took a moment to look back at the shuttle. On Earth it was in the form of a black limosine-like car, but now it looked like an actual space shuttle. It was mostly white with black ceramic tiles all along the bottom and underside of the wings. The nose was sloped and there were wide bay windows to the cockpit. The wings were short, the tips pointed upwards, and the entire back of the ship was made up of thrusters, each one surrounded by metal flaps for redirection. He noticed there were engines on the bottom of the ship too.


Snake stepped around the back of the shuttle, careful to not be in the way of the Alloy's disembarking from the ship, all his bags and luggage in their glowing hands. He rubbed his arms, trying to warm himself. An alloy came up to him and handed him a blanket.


"I'm sorry. We should have warned you about the weather." It apologized, "We alloys can't feel cold or heat, so it never crossed our minds."


Snake was taken by surprise at the alloy's words, but thanked it and wrapped the blanket tightly around his shoulders. Much better.


He went to the edge of the roof and looked out at the landscape. There was a road that led away from the roundabout in the front of the building , snaking along a very large snow covered property to a black, iron gate. The road kept going from there, but to where, Snake wasn't sure, but he presumed it was those buildings along the coast. It was the only other industrialized area he saw.


Snake looked around some more, thinking about how he wasn't on Earth anymore, he was standing, actually standing, on the grounds of another planet. God only knows where he was, what planet he was on, how far from Earth he was. He looked at the dark mountains, and peeked a hand out from under his blanket to catch snowflakes that melted in his hand. This place looked just like Earth, no off-color grass, or sky, and the air wasn't hard to breathe at all. Maybe he'd watched too many sci-fi movies, but he was glad this place didn't too alien.


"Quite impressive, isn't it? I built all of this myself, you know." A familiar voice came from behind. Snake turned around.


"Master...huh?!"


He backed away too quickly. He slipped on the ice and fell backwards. Standing before him, or rather floating before him, was a gigantic white glove.


"Be careful," A voice floated from it. "It's quite icy up here."


"Master...HAND?!"


"In the flesh." It chuckled with a bit of mirth.


Snake couldn't form the words. He didn't have the slightest clue what Master Hand's true form was, but never had he imagined it would be something that didn't even have a face. The red alloy was right, Master Hand looked nothing like them. He was a HAND! Literally a hand! Or...was he a glove?


"Allow me." The hand spoke again. Snake was lifted up from the ground by an invisible force and was placed gently back on his feet.


"Uh... t-thanks..." He stuttered, readjusting the blanket around his shoulders. He briefly glanced at the alloy's bustling about the rooftop, apparently they all had seen him fall, for they quickly turned around and went back to work. Snake was embarrassed.


"So this is uh...you." He said, facing the hand again.


"Yes, and this is my world." The giant hand motioned with a flourish to the snow covered land. "I call it Odintenn. Right now, it's about the same time as it was back in your world. It is also winter here."


Snake looked at him, er, it. "You said time was different all around space. So, what's time like here?"


The glove turned back to him, "The days span twenty-four hours, just like your planet. I find it is the most adequate time frame to allow for plenty of daytime, free time, and rest at night. You'd be surprised how many other planets share the same twenty-four hour clock as yours."


"And the days? How many are in a month? How many months in a year?" If they even have that here, Snake thought.


"There are twelve months in a year, and each month is twenty eight days long. That's four weeks a month at 7 days a week - a nice square number don't you think?" The hand asked.


Snake was surprised. This place wasn't too foreign after all, it could have been just like home. Master Hand picked his speech back up. "The Tournament doesn't start for another couple of months, so you have plenty of time to relax, or begin preparations for competition if you wish. The island is quite dead right now, for tourism at least."


"It'll pick up?" Snake asked.


The hand curled up and pointed a giant index finger upward, the same way a person would when emphasizing information, "Tourism won't be in full bloom until the summertime, when the Tournament takes a break and when the Summer Festival begins. The town will be packed and bustling by then."


"Summer festival?"


"One of the new attractions this year. Paying homage to the two other Tournaments that have come before." The Hand answered. "But for now, the people here have come to watch the Tournament."


"Where will we fight?" Snake asked, looking down at the building beneath his feet. "Here?"


Master Hand chuckled. "No, not here. This is only the Main Building. Where my office and the board rooms are. Over there is where you will be fighting."


The giant hand pointed to the mountain range. Snake stepped around to see where he was looking, er, pointing at. Off in the distance, in the plain beyond the mountains, Snake spotted a shining, dome-like structure. Even from this distance he could see it was enormous.


"What is that?" He asked.


"That is the Super Dome." Master Hand replied. "The fruit of my many years of hard work perfected. That is where you will fight."


"It's pretty impressive." Snake commented.


"It's more than impressive, it's genius I must say." The hand boasted, turning back to him. "Do you remember that Grid system I mentioned a while back?"


"The one that prevents injuries and fatalities." Snake responded. "I remember. You said you'd perfected it."


Master Hand's floaty voice was smug. "That's right. That is where the Grid system is in place. The Super Dome can sit up to one hundred thousand people. About twice the size of last year's Stadium. It even floats."


"The Dome floats?"


"By way of an anti-gravitational propulsion system. Also of my design. It keeps the fighting stages afloat as well."


"The stages float too? Won't that affect balance?" Snake questioned.


The hand moved in another flourish. "Not at all. The propulsion system is perfect. You won't feel the slightest budge or sway. The stages float because of the environmental factor of matches." Snake tilted his head at that. The Hand continued,"It's another type of Grid system. You won't just be fighting on plain, level stages, you know. This Grid completely transforms the stage into another place, it even has a climate factor."


Snake raised his brows. "How does that work? If it's illusionary, doesn't that mean it's not really there?"


"Oh it's no illusion. It's there. You're stepping on solid ground and you're feeling real wind or heat against your skin. Some stages have hazards, you might want to watch out for a rising acid lake creeping up from below or pay attention to what's happening in the background around you. If you don't, the stage will give you the boot itself."


"Huh?"


"Well, it's getting late Snake." Master Hand sighed. "Tomorrow you'll need to sign some paperwork, as well as learn the rules of both the Tournament and the Island, among other things. For now though, you can rest for the night in your room. The alloys will take you there."


"Where will I be staying?" Snake asked.


Again the hand pointed. This time to those paths cut into the mountain side. He could see small houses dotted along the road. "Those are the Housing Complexes. You'll be living in your own apartment for your entire stay." The hand answered.


Snake nodded. Master Hand floated away, giving commands to the alloys as he went. Snake took one last look at the snow covered scenery, the cold wind nipping at his face.


His luggage had been unloaded and laid neatly atop a trolley. Another female-looking alloy was waiting next it, though this one was colored purple. The alloy had a free floating circle at the base of her shiny round head, Snake thought it kind of resembled a bun. Her feet were arched like high heels and her shoulders were squared. She looked very secretary-esque.


"Are you ready to go, sir?" The purple alloy asked when he approached her.


He nodded again. "I'm ready."


 

He was taken downstairs, through the Main Building, to another, smaller shuttle that was waiting outside in the back of the building. His luggage, or rather the entire trolley, was loaded onto a platform at the back of the bus. Inside, the cabin was spacious and the seats were soft and plush, the dark interior gave his eyes a nice rest from the blinding white outside. The purple alloy rode in the shuttle with him, along with two others.


Snake had his nose pressed to the window the entire drive. They passed more unmarked, or vaguely marked, brick buildings. The streets were pretty empty save for a couple of kids that were playing in the snow.


Snake furrowed his brow. Children?


The kids stopped their roughhousing and looked at the passing shuttle. He blinked. These children had strange faces - a blond haired kid in a rustic-looking jacket had the biggest eyes he'd ever seen, and the other child, with a black head of hair and a baseball cap, had smaller eyes but a creepy face. These kids appeared human. They stared back at him until the shuttle took a turn and the kids were out of sight. Strange. Didn't the letter say you had to leave family behind?


The shuttle drove up a winding cobble road as it ascended the mountainside. The road wove between the apartments, all their roofs were made up of beautiful, multicolored stacked tile. Snake thought the place kind of resembled an old Italian neighborhood.


The shuttle finally came to a stop, the purple alloy announcing that they'd arrived at his assigned apartment. The other two alloys disembarked along with them and began to remove the trolley from the back. Snake would have offered to help, but the alloys were so quick and efficient, he'd probably be more in their way. The view from the mountain took his attention instead.


He could see the entire town from this spot. One of the island's dense forests of naked, snow covered trees bordered the land to the north, the snowless desert and canyon stretched off to the far east. There were more buildings and structures dotted here and there on the outskirts of the town. The street lights began to flicker on one by one, bathing the streets a soft glow. Even with the howling wind from the mountain, it was beautiful and peaceful.


Snake heard a voice beckoning him. The purple alloy was waving him over as she stood on the porch of his apartment, the two alloys also waiting with her. The apartment had one large window and two flower boxes that framed the sides of the porch. There was another flower box underneath the window, though nothing was in them but dirt at the moment. The apartment was colored white, the roof the same multicolored tile as the others. Above the door was an overhang, also decorated with tile.


"Here you are Mr. Snake. This is your apartment." The purple alloy said. She took a gold key that was taped to the digital clipboard she was carrying and unlocked the front door. Snake looked at the number fifteen on the door before following inside.


She flicked on the lights. He was surprised to see the room was a studio apartment, the bed, living room and the kitchen were all apart of the same one room. The tables, furniture, and the headboard of the bed all appeared to be stained wood. The kitchen counters were also a dark familiar color, along with the tiles of the kitchen floor. Aside from the gigantic flat screen TV in the living room, and a computer sitting on a desk in the corner, Snake could have sworn he was walking back into his own home.


"Welcome to your home for the next year." The purple alloy said.


"This place is huge." He gawked. More incredible than he thought. Behind him, the other alloys entered the apartment as well, pushing the trolley in. They began to unload his bags.


The purple alloy chuckled. "Of course. You're an invited competitor, we want you to have the best experience possible. Now, since you are new, I'll explain some of the features of your room."


She spent a good chunk of time giving him a grand tour of the place. In the kitchen, the alloy showed him the, thankfully, normal looking and operating coffee pot. Snake had his own working stove with extra pots, pans, and dishware already in the cupboards. The fridge was a massive, super-fancy, chrome coated two door. The living room was spacious and sunken slightly into the ground. A matching couch and comfy looking armchair framed a stained wood coffee table with steel legs. A huge TV was anchored to the wall. It even had a stereo system. Hot damn.


The mattress looked queen sized and had a brand new set of sheets. Two stained wooden dressers framed both sides of the bed, with three drawers each and a decorative lamp on top. The closet was a huge walk-in, with loads of shelves and cubbies, even a full length mirror. It was way more space than he needed.


Next came the bathroom. The floor was a textured gripping tile. The sink was deep and luxurious with vanity lights and a large mirror. Cubbies for towels were built into the wall. There was a standing shower with an etched glass door and a very large bathtub, which looked to be one of those deep relaxation jet tubs. He wasn't much of a bath guy but he'd be damned if he didn't try out those relaxation jets at least once. There was even a small rug at the foot of the toilet. So when he went to the bathroom at night, his feet wouldn't be cold on the textured floor. They really thought of everything.


Next he was shown a small room just behind the kitchen, this was a storage room that held his washer and dryer. There were more shelves stocked with detergent, dryer sheets, extra packs of soaps, toilet paper, bed sheets and towels. Good thing he could wash his clothes here.


Lastly, the alloy showed Snake the computer, which she called the Terminal. It was a touch screen and Snake was mesmerized how, even though the alloy did not have fingers, she was able to interact with the screen.


"This computer is the most important thing in your room." She'd said. "This is your lifeline, your connection to the entire place. This is where you will receive all of your match listings, what time they will take place and on what days. Master Hand will also send you important emails through this. I'm sure I don't have to tell you to always read them. Please be sure to check this Terminal everyday."


Snake nodded at her and she continued, "This computer is also used for our Courtesy Services. If you've run out of towels or need clean sheets, just put in an order through here and the Linen Unit will bring it up to you. However, laundry soaps, shampoos and other products of the like, you will have to purchase for yourself. There is a twenty-four hour General Store in town where you can get anything and everything you need. You can also order Room Service from the cafeteria this way too. Now, do you have any questions about anything at all, Mr. Snake?"


"Yeah, how do we call back home?" He asked.


"If Master Hand has set up a return satellite back on your planet," She began, fiddling with the screen once again, "Then it should already be connected to here. Ah, there it is. I see you're set up for webcam chat and...some kind of...CO-DEC link? Huh?" She tilted her orb-like head in confusion.


"Really?" Snake leaned forward to look at the screen. The words CODEC COMMUNICATION ACTIVE were italicized on the window. "I can call home this way? Neat." The alloy turned her head towards him, Snake guessed by her gesture that she was still confused. "Uh...it's a type of multi-way radio system I use to communicate with my friends back home." He tapped his left ear. "Surgically implanted."


"Ah, so the rumors are true, you are some kind of a super secret agent." The tone her voice became excited. Snake looked at her. Of course his arrival to this place had to be known beforehand, if they went through the trouble of setting up his apartment to look suspiciously like his home, but had these beings actually been talking about him over here? What had they been saying?


"Uuh..." Snake grasped, "Not in the sense that you're probably thinking..."


The alloy backed up a little. "I guess we will see when the Tournament starts. Do you have any other questions?"


"Just one more. Is food a free service too? Or will we have to pay for it?" Snake had taken money with him, but he highly doubted that his type of currency would be accepted here.


"You'll have to pay for your meals. First meals for competitors are free though." She answered. "To start off, Master Hand gives everyone a card with a small amount of money for food and other expenses, and when the Tournament begins, you'll start getting paid. Room Service also has a small delivery charge, but for right now it's free. After all, not too many of the newbies are keen on exploring this place when they first arrive. After the Tournament begins though, Room Service will start charging their usual fee." The alloy pushed a little card on the desk towards him. "This is your meal voucher. It has no limit, you can order whatever you want, but only once. Just hand it to the cashier in the cafeteria or give it to the Runner, er I mean the Delivery Alloy, if you have it delivered."


He picked up the card to examine it. "Thanks."


"Anything else?"


"No, I think that will be it."


"Alright I'll leave you to your business then." She dropped his room key onto the desk and headed to the front door. The other two alloys and left a while ago, taking the trolley outside with them. The purple alloy gave Snake one last welcome speech before exiting the apartment at last. Snake was finally alone.


He stood where he was for a moment, looking around the room again. It was strange to think about where he was. The place wasn't too shabby, he could definitely picture himself living here for a year.


Now, what should he do first? Should he begin unpacking? Should he call Otacon? He was starting to get a little hungry, maybe he should go down and get something to eat first, or he could just have it delivered. After all, he didn't know where the cafeteria was located. He was leaning more towards that.


Why not do all three?


Snake fiddled with the Terminal, trying to bring up the window with the options to call home again. After pressing all the wrong links first, he finally found the right one. "CODEC COMMUNICATION" was grayed out, meaning it was unclickable...right? He tried it anyway. The computer made a thunk! sound every time he pressed it.


Maybe he should just try it the old fashioned way?


Snake put a finger to his ear, activating the radio and tuning to the right frequency. It rang a few times before the line was finally answered.


"Hello...?"

He instantly recognized the voice of his friend. "Otacon!"

"Snake!" The engineer sounded surprised, and relieved for some reason. "Snake, is that you?"


"What do you mean, 'is it me?' I've only been gone a few hours, did you forget who I was already?" He chuckled.


"A few hours? It's been three days since you left Snake! I was worried out of my mind that something had happened to you." Otacon blustered out.


"Three days...?"


The engineer almost laughed. "It's good to hear your voice. You're still in one piece right? Did you get there? Safely? Like, are you actually there?"


"Uh...yeah, I'm here." Snake answered. "Has it really been three days?"

"You guys left on Wednesday, it's Saturday now."

"It doesn't even feel like a full day has passed yet."

"Really? Well...time does vary in space."

"I know that. So much for post haste..." He grumbled.

Otacon laughed nervously. "Three days isn't too bad once you think about it. But enough about that, tell me about the place. Where are you? Are you on a...a different planet or something?"


"Not sure. I'm on an island, I can tell you that much. I didn't actually see the whole planet, the way I did Earth. If only you could seen it Otacon. I actually flew through space!"


"How was that?"

"The Earth is so much more beautiful than you could ever imagine. The worm hole...not so much."


"You went through one? An actual one? Physicists haven't been able to prove they even exist!" Otacon's voice became really excited now."A real Einstein-Rosen bridge... What was that like?"


"Awful. Like I was being run through a laundry mangler." Snake groaned. "The pain, or...maybe it wasn't exactly pain now that I think about it, just a really, really crazy feeling, was too much to take. I closed my eyes and the next thing I knew, we were here."


"That's all? No details?" His friend sounded dejected.


"Sorry. Only thing you need to know is, if you ever plan on passing through a worm hole, take a barf bag with you."


The engineer laughed a little. "I'll take note. What about the venue? Have you settled up in your room yet?"


"Yeah. I'm unpacking now." Snake said. He had unzipped a couple of his bags and already pulled out some clothing. "It was getting late when we got here, so I'm resting up for the night. The room is odd though, it looks just like the inside of my duplex. Everything from the furniture and tables, down to the tiles in the kitchen and even the color of the carpet."


"Huh? That's pretty weird."


"Kind of comforting, actually. They call this place an apartment, but's more like a house."


"Have you seen any of the other competitors? Are there any other humans?" Otacon was just made of questions right now.


"I saw a couple of kids. They looked human to me. But I don't think I saw any of the other competitors. Couldn't tell if I did anyway."


"Kids?"


"The Invitation didn't mention anything about bringing family along. Master Hand said this place was closed off to all the tourists outside too...Oh! Otacon! You won't believe what Master Hand really looks like."

"...He's a WHAT?!"

Chapter Text

-Two months ago-


A lonely little ship drifted through the desolate vacuum of space, the pilot was fidgeting in her seat with excitement. The Tournament was starting again and she'd received her invitation for the third time. She was so eager to go back there.

The pilot manually steered the ship, having taken it off auto-pilot, for she was approaching the gateway. She hoped all of her friends would be invited back as well - the young hylian warrior, the quick witted arwing pilot, the adorably friendly mouse-Pokemon and the extreme but kind racer. But most of all, she hoped that the two princesses would be there. They were the ones she'd missed the most.

An alarm went off on the control board, signaling a space distortion was nearby. She quieted the alarm, holding her eyes on the thermal radar, where she saw the deep blue discoloration that lit up the screen. This was the wormhole to the alternate dimension known as "Odintenn" where Master Hand resided, and where his Tournament took place. Normally, the gateway couldn't be seen in the absolute blackness, and it only appeared when the Tournament was starting, but the intense headlights of her ship lit up the ominous-looking ripples. The radio was picking up a low humming frequency too, given off by the distortion. She steered the ship closer. The air began to change, and all the the fine hairs on her arms stood up. She gave the tightened straps of her seat belt one last tug and sucked in a breath. Okay, here we go.

The tiny cabin distorted, stretching forward, as did her arms and the rest of her body. She shut her eyes from the blinding white light. Just as quickly as the phenomenon happened, it ended. The woman's body jerked forward and she breathed out, shaking out her arms and legs. She'd become used the wormhole by now, the odd sensations barley bothered her anymore. It used to make her feel sick but she found holding her breath while going through it helped out a lot.

The ship had entered a different world now. No longer in space, it drifted through endless gray clouds. Light storm clouds, it seemed. Raindrops sprinkled the bay window of her ship and she heard the soft rumbling of thunder. Wait...clouds? And rain? Here?

The ship descended below the cloud line and she saw a blanket of gray across the endless sky. It could rain now? She smiled in delight. She absolutely loved the rain.

A single island amid a massive ocean came into view. Already she could tell that the island was a lot bigger than it was before. She could also see a giant, round, metal structure to the far west. Instantly she know that this was an upgraded Super Dome.

Her ship received an incoming call.

"Control Tower to bogey, please identify yourself." Came a voice.

She switched on her own microphone. "Control Tower, this is Samus Aran, on-board the Hunter V, class four gunship. I have an invitation. Requesting permission to land." She replied.

The voice on the other end crackled back warmly. "Permission to land has been granted. The Hanger has been relocated. Just follow the sky beacons and they'll show you the way. Welcome back Ms. Aran. We've been waiting for you."

A smile spread across her face again. She caught sight of blinking red lights floating in the air. Those must be the sky beacons. They formed a path leading all the way to the island.

The beacons led the Hunter V to an inland mountain range. Samus expected to see a large aircraft hanger-type building, where all the competitors would park their starships, if they traveled in one, but there were no buildings at all, not even a landing pad. Cut directly into the ground instead were three massive, rectangular shaped doors, blinking red lights framing the edges. Is this the Hanger? Was it underground?

Samus hovered her ship above one of the entrances. Slowly, the doors of the middle hanger began to open. It parted wide, like a set of jagged teeth. The noise the machinery made as it groaned open and the warning siren to stay clear of the area was loud. Once the entrance opened wide enough, Samus spotted a curious, and very shiny looking, humanoid standing on the very bottom of the Hanger. The being lifted it's arms, lit beacons in each hand. It walked backwards, motioning the beacons to the right. Samus followed direction, driving her ship slowly and carefully into the Hanger and maneuvering in the appointed direction. Through the rain-dotted bay window, she saw starships parked in the Hanger she recognized. Excitement filled her again.

Another shiny humanoid waving another set of glowing beacons, stood next to her designated parking spot, which was also lit up with blinking lights. This spot looked to be a bit of a tight fit, with how massive this Hanger was, there should have easily been a lot more room for the Hunter V, she thought.

With extreme precision, Samus rotated her ship a full one-hundred-and-eighty degrees, the landing gears hummed as they extended and the entire ship came to a rest.

Samus spent a moment shutting off all the systems to the ship. She unbuckled herself and got out of her seat, heading to the cockpit exit hatch, just as a group of those same shiny humanoids approached the Hunter V. Samus stood on the circular elevator pad and it descended downward.

The smell of the Hanger's air was refreshing, it smelled of metal and grease of course, and curiously, of smoke as well. Samus could hear the sounds of construction. The strange looking group had been waiting for her.

"Ms. Aran, welcome back! It's good to see you again. Hope you have been well." One of them, holding a clipboard, greeted.

"Oh, hello." Samus replied. She was able to get a good look the strange humanoids now. They were all sorts of shiny colors, their bodies were very sleek, and they had curious spherical midsections and glowing white lights for hands and faces. Guess they weren't holding lighted beacons after all. "Are...are you guys the WireFrames?" She asked.

"Yep, that's us." Another of the beings stepped forth, pride in their voice. "We've been upgraded, we are called 'Alloys' now."

"Alloys," Samus repeated, "I like it, you guys look great! Very shiny. There is definitely more than two of you."

The alloys all mumbled words of agreement, the one with the clipboard rubbed the back of their smooth head. "Yeah, that whole WireFrame thing was a fiasco. With only two of us, no one could tell the other apart! Er, but but that's getting off topic. Would you like help with your luggage, Ms. Aran?"

"Yes, thank you." She said. Samus walked the group to the back of the ship where the cargo hatch opened and lowered a platform down with all of her luggage. Most were toolboxes and other tool kits, but among the many suitcases was the most important baggage of all - a sealed metal and glass case that contained her Varia Suit, an android-esque battle suit made of near-extinct technology.

The alloys each took one or two of her bags, loading them onto a couple of trolleys. A hulking black-colored alloy, with it's massive chest, high pointed shoulders and gigantic, glowing orb-like hands, pushed a dolly up to the platform. Samus guessed this alloy carried all the heavy stuff, for it lifted the case containing her suit with ease and placed it gently on the handtruck. It secured the case down with straps as well.

While the alloys finished loading up her luggage, Samus was busy with a purple alloy, who took down all of her information on their digital clipboard - her name, her ship VIN number, what parking spot the Hunter V was parked at, and what time she'd arrived.

"I'm sorry parking is a little cramped right now." The purple alloy apologized, "We had to close down a third of the Hanger for a little construction project that's going on." The alloy pointed the pen it was writing with to the other end of the hanger, which was completely blocked off by massive metal and tarp barriers.

"What're they building over there?" Samus asked.

"Can't really say," The alloy replied, "All I can tell you, is that it's way too big to be built in the Garages, like everything else for the Tournament. It could have been seen from the outside, and Master Hand doesn't want anything leaking. So, they had to build it in here. Which wouldn't be so bad, except THAT is taking up half of this side of the Hanger."

Samus looked where the alloy pointed the pen now and her jaw dropped. Parked in the very back of the Hanger was one of the biggest starships she had ever seen. It had to be well over six hundred feet in length, with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of windows all along the side. Cannons were on every deck and nook of the ship. It's wings were in the shape of bat's wings and were folded downward. The circular gray helm of the ship nearly touched the wall.

"What the hell is that?" Samus gasped.

"It's called the Battleship Halberd." The alloy said, sounding amused. "Do you know how many people came on that thing? Three. Well, one of them had a little fuzzy army with him, but still, it's a bit much if you ask me. You could fit every other ship in here on that thing."

Samus was still gawking in amazement. She had not noticed it because that corner was pretty dim, the lights on the ceiling were being blocked out by the ship itself. That and her eyes had not yet adjusted to the darkness of the Hanger. How the hell could it even fit in here?

And just what were they building over there?

"OK, were all ready."

The other alloys had finished loading all of her belongings onto the trolleys. The cargo dock ascended back into place and the ship locked down completely. Samus followed the shiny group as they headed towards the elevators that would take them to the surface. She swiveled her head around to look at all the parked ships.

She spotted the purple and gold colored Falcon Flyer. So, the Captain was definitely back. She could see two equally familiar blue and white colored ships off in the distance - Arwings. They were here too. She also passed by a very small, dilapidated looking rocket ship. It was covered in dents and some parts were even rusted. Who could have driven this? And how did it even make it here?

They came closer and closer to the closed off section of the Hanger, as it was right next to the elevators. Samus tried her hardest to see what it was they were constructing behind the massive barriers. From what she could see, the thing was big. Very big. It had to be standing at least a couple of stories tall, it's metal surface was smooth and rounded.

One of the alloys pressed the button to call the platform. Samus could make out some white lettering on the side of the machine, but it was obscured by a golden shower of sparks that rained down from the welders. She looked through another opening and spotted more parts of the machine...or...was it? Looking back and forth between the openings, Samus could see they not only were two different colors, one appeared to be smooth and round while the other looked bulky with defined edges. Was this a whole other machine?

A siren buzzed, signaling the elevator had arrived. The huge door cage slid open noisily and everyone boarded the massive elevator. Samus stole one last look, this time to the more oblique structure. There was a massive bulkhead at the top and what she thought were two support columns at the bottom. That was the last thing she could see before the elevator doors shut and the grated gates obstructed her view entirely.

The air was crisp and cool on the surface. It may have been raining up in the clouds, but down on the ground, those water droplets had frozen into snowflakes. It was probably nearing the end of the year. A shuttle was waiting in the upper level open garage, complete with a covered trailer to carry the two trolleys and dolly with her Varia case strapped to it. Samus was told it would be a short drive to the Apartment Complexes, where the competitors would be housed for the year. She observed the new scenery from the open doors of the garage. The mountains looked beautiful, even from this distance, much like the mountain range surrounding her home back on Earth.


 

"Here we are Ms. Aran."

The shuttle stopped in front of her assigned apartment. They called it an apartment, but it was actually the size of a small house. It had a simple wooden front door, a single window on one side, and empty flower boxes. Samus noticed that her door looked a little wider than usual. The right side of the apartment appeared to be extended too, thought it was windowless. What was behind that, she wondered.

The alloys began to unload the trolleys from the trailer while she followed the purple-colored one to the front door. It took a golden key that was taped to it's clipboard and unlocked the door. Samus followed her inside. The alloy flipped on the light switch and Samus gasped in surprise.

"We understand you have a need for a little extra storage space for all of your tools and your armor," The alloy said, "therefore, your apartment is a little bigger than the others, Ms. Aran."

The first thing Samus saw was the garage-like workshop on the entire right side of the house. This was the extended space she'd seen from the outside. There were lots of tables and shelves on the walls. Samus noticed there was even a perfect little niche built for her Varia case, which the black alloy was currently loading it into now. She had never felt so in love with a work-space.

The purple alloy took her around the apartment, while the others unloaded all her luggage and toolboxes. It showed Samus the fancy set up of the closet, bathroom and the storage room behind the open kitchen. It was all small, neat and organized, one of her favorite things. But the newest and most impressive addition was the Terminal computer. She could do practically everything with it. It kept track of when she had matches, against whom, how many points she'd accrued and even how much winnings she'd earned. It even had bulletins for happenings outside of the Tournament in the community. But one of the best features it had was a new database on all the competitors, thought it was incomplete at the moment. She would have to go through it when she had some free time.

The purple alloy gave her the room key, a food voucher, a welcome speech, and at last she and the others finally left. Samus was alone.

She threw herself onto the soft, queen-sized bed. It was so comfy, she felt like she was sinking into a marshmallow. She was back after so long. Back to see her friends. Back for another vacation. But most importantly, she'd had another chance at the grand prize. Samus stared up at the ceiling and clenched her fists.

This was the year. This year she was going to win.

She sat up. She'd better start unpacking before she got too comfortable. Samus got off the bed and piled a couple of suitcases on top. She'd barely pulled a zipper when there was knock at her front door. "Who is it?" She called out. There was no answer, just another knock. Maybe the alloy had forgotten something? Samus maneuvered around her luggage on the floor and went to the door to answer it. Immediately she was greeted by an overly excited, and overly pink-clad woman. They squealed loudly upon seeing her.

"Sammy!"

Samus squealed back just as loudly. "Peach!"

The two women threw their arms around each other in a big hug. The other woman jumped up and down happily, continuing to squeal out in joy. "I'm so glad you made it back!" She said.

"It's so good to see you again!"

The shorter, blonde-haired woman held her out at arms length and examined her. "You haven't changed one bit. How have you been all this time, my dear friend?" She asked.

The woman was Peach Toadstool, one of the competitors she'd befriended. Peach was a princess, an actual princess, from a land called Mushroom Kingdom, where she ruled over tiny "mushroom people." Peach was the absolute sweetest person Samus had ever met, and the Princess could bake the most delicious sweets. She never wore an outfit that didn't have pink on it. It was her favorite color after all.

Samus laughed, "That's a whole long story, Peach. I'll tell you all about it over a nice hot cup of tea. And maybe one of your delicious cheesecakes. I've been dying to eat them again."

The Princess took a moment to adjust the golden crown atop her head that had become slightly askew from her excited jumping. She smiled brightly. "And you shall! I've brought my entire baking supply with me this time. I'll make you as many as you want."

Samus smiled back. "I can't wait."

"Oh oh! Zelda is here too." Peach said. The pink princess stepped aside, to reveal another woman standing off the porch behind her. Samus did not immediately recognize the person.

"Zelda?"

The woman brushed strands of chestnut hair from her face, careful of the golden tiara across her forehead, and smiled at her warmly. "It's wonderful to see you again, Samus." Zelda greeted.

Another opponent she had become close friends with, Zelda was also a princess. She was the very definition of royalty. Zelda was prim and proper, quiet but stoic, diplomatic and unwavering. She was a ruler, though she was a different type of human than herself and Peach were. Zelda had noticeably pointed ears, like an elf from ancient mythology. The land she ruled over was called Hyrule.

Samus embraced her too. "You look so different! Your hair is brown now."

"That's right, it was blonde last time, wasn't it?" Zelda laughed, as she squeezed the woman back. They parted.

"Yeah, but I think I like the brown better. It suits you."

Zelda touched her locks. "You think so?"

"I'm so glad we're all here. The dream team is back together again, sweet!" Peach pumped her gloved fist into the air.

"How long ago did you two arrive?" Samus asked the women.

Peach pointed to herself first. "I've been here for three weeks. Zelda just arrived about a week ago."

"Did the others come with you?"

Zelda smiled. "Of course. We're all here."

"Is...is he here too?" Samus asked, warily. Peach side-eyed Zelda, who kind of gave a nervous laugh.

"Yes, I'm afraid he has returned as well." She answered.

Samus's good mood was instantly soured, and she became angry. "But...why? After the stunt he pulled last year? Master Hand kicked him out himself, how can he allow that man back?"

Zelda closed her eyes and sighed. "This is Master Hand's world, he will invite anyone he pleases."

Samus put her hands on her hips. She just got here and already there was bad news. "And the koopa?" She asked Peach.

"I'm afraid so." The pink princess replied, though she did not look as worried as her counterpart.

Samus rolled her eyes. Great.

Peach changed the subject. "So Sammy, you must be hungry after your long journey. Why don't we all go down to the cafeteria and get some lunch together? We can catch up!"

Samus shook her head. "I'd love to Peach, but I don't have my card yet. I have no way to pay for my meal, and I was hoping to save my voucher for dinner tonight."

"But we have our cards." Zelda replied, and both women produced plastic cards, Peach from a pocket in her puffy pink jacket, and Zelda from inside a thick fur wrap she had around her shoulders. "Come on, we'll pay."


The Cafeteria had been relocated and completely remodeled. Last year, there was one single food line, but now there were two. There were additional islands with extra food choices, an extra check out station and chilled coolers behind the counters that contained delicious-looking desserts. The dining area used to also be just one room, but this new and improved building had a dual-level dining area. There was a new outside patio as well.

But the new feature Samus liked the most was a ginormous bay window with an etched mosaic of the Tournament's logo, the circle with two intersecting lines, in the center. She marveled at it how massive it was.

"This place is incredible." She said.

Food tray in hand, she followed the princesses to the empty line. No one was in here except for the alloys working. Samus saw another type of the shiny beings, it was colored pink, fairly short with a thicker build and two points on both sides of it's head. Samus thought it kind of resembled hair.

The menu choices had tripled. There so much food Samus wasn't sure what she'd wanted, and had quite a hard time picking. Eventually, all three women got their food, sat down at a table on the lower level nearest to the bay window and started feasting.

They spent the next couple of hours chatting and catching up. Nothing much had happened with Peach since the last Tournament, she was still managing to keep peace in her kingdom, despite the trouble the koopa king Bowser caused, thanks to the assistance of the two plumber brothers, Mario and Luigi. It had been frightening before to hear how Bowser had kidnapped Peach, quite regularly, ("once a week, every week" the princess recalled) but now, it almost seemed...normal. Peach spoke about it so casually, it almost seemed like apart of her daily routine. It confused Samus. She didn't understand how Peach could just let Bowser keep snatching her up like that. If it were her, she would have blasted the koopa to kingdom come the first time.

But Peach is such a gentle and forgiving person, Samus thought she took a "make peace and not war" approach on everything. And maybe it worked. The koopa king did act a little strangely around her, maybe too strange. There were a couple of times last year when she'd noticed that Bowser almost seemed...protective of Peach. This confused Samus even more.

Peach went on to nonchalantly mention how Zelda, and her hyrulean knight Link, another competitor in the Tournament, managed to stop yet another apocalyptic war in her kingdom. Samus almost choked on her food. Unsurprisingly another uprising caused by him.

"I thought you and Link were able to stop him for good last time." Samus said.

"Our history is doomed to eternally repeat itself, for he too was given power by the goddesses. I may fail to see the reasoning behind this, but it is the will of the divine, I suppose." Zelda took the last small bite of her food. She finished chewing before she spoke again. "His will is so strong, it crosses the very essence of time. He will always be destined to oppose us." The mood at the table soured. Samus felt empathy for her friend. How would she feel if she was doomed to eternally repeat her life? Doomed to eternally fight the same enemy, over and over again? Every single lifetime. Samus didn't know if she could handle it. "That being said though," Zelda continued with a delicate smile, "It seems we will always be destined to prevail against him."

Samus smiled too. She may not consider herself strong enough to handle that, but Zelda sure was.

It was their turn to ask Samus what she'd been up to. It was incredibly relieving to finally pour out all of her pent-up frustration to someone. She'd told them about her mission to a planet called Aether, and how she managed to save a species from near extinction, this species especially being part of The First Races - the first and most ancient beings to come into existence in the universe. She told them how the trouble from that planet had followed her to another, and how she defeated the darkest threat to her home to date - Phazon. Both princesses were horrified when she told them she'd been critically poisoned with Phazon, but managed to pull through.

"Have there been any side effects?" Zelda asked.

"None that I know of so far. I've been to a lot of doctors since then, and I've been watching my health very carefully. But there seems to be no repercussions. Lucky me." She replied.

The princesses both agreed. Peach declared that she was going to make Samus a hundred cheesecakes to make her feel better. She laughed.

Samus wanted to return to an earlier subject, to discuss a certain person some more."How do we know Ganondorf will behave this time? Follow the rules?" She asked of Zelda.

The brunette shook her head. "We do not. But one thing I can attest for is that the man is patient. A master tactician. Coming here, again, must be another strategy of his."

"What the hell is Master Hand thinking?" Samus growled.

"Ganondorf is extremely powerful. We know Master Hand loves a good fight, no matter who it's with." Zelda said. "He doesn't distinguish between good and evil, he only sees us as people with different goals."

"That means he's got another shot at that wish. It's highly likely his motivation hasn't changed one bit." Samus concluded.

Zelda nodded in agreement. "Without a doubt. He'll use that wish to become a God, like Master Hand."

Peach covered her mouth. "Oh my."

Samus turned to the blonde. "And what about Bowser?"

"The only thing he's interested in is beating Mario. I doubt his ambitions are as bold as Ganon's, but the two aren't exactly enemies. Politics makes strange bedfellows, after all." Peach responded cheerily.

"You think they'd team up?" Samus asked.

The pink princess shrugged.

Zelda folded her cutlery neatly over her clean plate. Her voice was low. "We'll just have to prevent the both of them from winning, as we all did last year. Luckily there are more allies here than enemies."

Samus lowered her voice too. "I don't mean to sound grim, but that could always change, especially now." She took the last bite of her food. "Don't forget, we always have new competitors arriving every year. We have to look out for them too. They may not always be good people."

The women all sighed heavily. This was a lot to carry on their shoulders. Wasn't this supposed to be a vacation? Time to lighten the subject.

"Speaking of, have you guys spotted any of the new people?" Samus asked, her voice back a normal volume.

Peach raised her hand. "Oh, I have! I saw a young boy, though he might have been a teenager, but he had wings! He looked like an angel. I'm not sure if they were real wings though."

Samus turned to the other princess. "Zelda?"

The brunette opened her mouth to speak but was cut off by a loud voice from the other end of the cafeteria.

"Ladies! Good afternoon!"

Samus instantly recognized the voice. She turned around to see a man approaching their table, tray of food in hand. He was tall with short black hair, and he was wearing a pair of dark sunglasses that obscured his eyes, a familiar scar cut through his left eyebrow.

She smiled. "Falcon!"

The man grinned and held up a hand in greeting. "Would you mind if I joined you ladies for lunch? Oh, it seems you're all done eating though."

The women invited him to the table nonetheless. Samus waited for the man to put down his food tray before she hugged him. "It's great to see you again Douglas, it's been ages."

Falcon returned the hug warmly. "You're looking well Samus. When did you get here? This is the first time I'm seeing you." They both sat down.

"I just arrived today. What about you?"

"I came around the same time as Peach." He replied, grabbing the salt and pepper shakers from the center of the table and seasoning his food. "We've got a lot to catch up on. How's the bounty hunting business been treating you?"

"Probably the same way it's been treating you." She replied. "How many races have you won since the last time we were here?"

The man was Douglas Jay Falcon, or Captain Falcon, as he called himself. He was a bounty hunter like Samus but also an extremely successful, and very well known race car driver. He competes in the F-Zero races - a high speed, and even higher danger, racing circuit that takes place across several different planets in several different solar systems. Half of what makes F-Zero so dangerous are the places the tracks are built - barely forming or dying planets with extreme conditions, even in big cities with lots of tourists and skyscrapers. The tracks zig, zag, loop upside and crawl up the sides of buildings and other structures. The tracks even launch the driver into free falls.

The other half of the danger are the vehicles themselves, called F-Zero machines. These machines are equipped with G-Diffuser Anti-Gravity Systems, engines so powerful the cars hover off the ground and are capable of reaching speeds up to 1500 kilometers per hour, or more. These speeds allow the vehicles to race along the impossible tracks. Falcon's F-Zero machine is called the Blue Falcon.

The man shrugged and gave her a cheeky smile. "Only a few."

She knew he was being modest. Samus had actually gotten to see his Blue Falcon in action once. She could have sworn it had nearly, if not, broken the sound barrier. "I bet you've bought another island just to display your trophies." She teased him.

Falcon shook his head and held up a couple of fingers, his mouth full of steak, "I bought two." Indeed, the man was very successful at what he does.

They caught up with Falcon as well, it turns out he was in a terrible accident a couple of years ago during the finale of the F-Zero Grand Prix hosted in Mute City. The accident was caused by another driver, who injured a dozen racers and even some spectators in the crowd. Falcon was hospitalized for a long time.

"They called it the worst catastrophe in two hundred years since the F-Max racing circuit." He finished. The women were all horrified.

"That must have been terrible, we're so glad you're okay Falcon." Peach said, her bright blue eyes brimming with sympathy.

"I was lucky believe me, some racers were seriously injured. We're all still praying for Gazelle, but I hear he's finally taken a turn for the better. Unfortunately the F-Zero races have been shut down for the time being." He finished.

"So, you haven't raced in a couple of years?" Samus asked.

He shook his head. "Nope."

Now she felt like a jerk for teasing him about how many races he'd won. He should have said something earlier. She wanted to be mad at him, but she couldn't, that's just the way Falcon was. She apologized anyway.

He waved her off, "Don't be sorry. If not for this I probably would have missed my invitation. I could really use the money and I wouldn't miss seeing my friends again for the world." He smiled, and then teased back, "Besides, those islands won't pay for themselves."

Samus shook her head in amusement. "What about the G-Zero races? Are they still going?"

"As far as I know the G-Zero circuit has not been affected. It's another branch and they're not really associated with each other. But I hear they've taken new security measures with their arenas, and put new regulations in place for G-Zero machines, as a precaution." Falcon finished.

"I bet Fox isn't too happy about it. He loves the F-Zero races more than the G-Zero ones." Samus said.

"What did he call them again? 'Tame in comparison?'" Falcon laughed. "Yeah, he's not happy about it at all. He seems to think I've got some kind of inside information on what's happening with the F-Zero committee. Truth is, he knows about as much as I do. Oh, have you said hi to Fox yet?"

Samus shook her head again. "I haven't seen him, only his Arwing in the Hanger. I saw the Skyclaw next to his. Falco returned too right?" Then Samus recalled something. "Hey Falcon, did you happen to see what the wirefr...er...alloys, were building in the Hanger?"

Falcon lifted his sunglasses to look at her. "You mean that thing behind the barrier?"

"Yeah."

He put his glasses back down. "Not at all. Sorry. The alloys have been guarding that section. It looks like some kind of giant robot, if you ask me."

"Peach? Zelda? Have you guys seen it?" She asked. Both princesses shook their heads, they didn't even know something was being built inside the Hanger. Samus explained how she'd seen it on her way in and how she suspected it might actually be two machines. Zelda surmised it must be something for the tournament. But what? The only thing that big is a stage, and those are constructed inside the Dome. What could this possibly be?

Falcon laughed. "Why so interested in it, Samus? We'll find out what it is eventually." He was right, but Samus was stubborn. She wanted to know now.

They all chatted a while longer, before they knew it, it was getting late in the afternoon. They decided to say their goodbyes, Falcon had other things to attend to and Samus had to start unpacking. Peach and Zelda offered to help since they were all going to the same place, their apartments were next to each other on the women's side of the mountain. She gladly accepted. She was looking forward to spending all the time she could with her old friends.

Chapter Text

-Present Day-

Snake sat at a table, a pile of papers in front of him, a couple of alloys sitting on either side, and Master Hand hovering in front of him.

Snake had been summoned to the Main building, the building the Shuttle landed on the roof of the day before, to go over the extensive contract and sign paperwork to compete in the Super Smash Brothers Tournament. The board room was spacious but the atmosphere was stiff. It was hard to pay attention to Master Hand's droning. The hard wooden chair he was sitting in didn't help either. His back was starting to hurt.

As he found out, if anything should happen to him there wasn't any legal action he could take. This place and it's laws were completely of Master Hand's design, so he was at the Hand's complete mercy while on the island. But he wouldn't have anything to worry about as long as he followed the rules. If he'd gotten hurt, he'd be taken care of. If any of his things were taken, they'd be promptly found, if not then replaced. Snake would be pampered and catered to with any and all of his needs being met, just as long as he didn't step out of line. As nice as all the perks sounded, those kind stipulations never sat right with him.

Snake had met another alloy here. It was apparently one of more importance than all the others, as Master Hand introduced her as his personal assistant. She was a standard purple alloy, but Snake could see it's purple color was a slightly pinker hue. Her name was #64. Indeed, she was different than the others.

Master Hand had now reached the subject of and was currently reciting the "House Rules" - rules of the island that needed to be stringently followed or else one could get kicked out of the tournament, and even off the island itself. Master Hand said this was not something he liked to do, but will. He'd apparently done it before.

"No fighting outside of the Ring between competitors," Master Hand dully recited. "All fighting will only take place in the Super Dome during matches. Any physical altercations outside of matches will be severely dealt with, the highest punishment being expulsion. Do not brandish any weapons in a threatening manner to other competitors, staff or civilians outside of the ring. Violations of this rule will be severally dealt with, the highest punishment being expulsion. As you will see Snake, some of the competitors will carry their weapons around with them at all times. You are free to carry yours too, so long as the safety stays on and you never point it at anyone."

Snake almost clicked his tongue out loud. Then what was the point of carrying it? Does that mean Snake would always have to be on his guard then, if everyone else had their weapons? What would he do if they attacked him? Throw the rule book at them?

Master Hand went on. "Do not leak any information about the tournament or ranking positions to any of the media or outside sources. As you know, this is a televised event, so keep everything about the tournament to yourself. This includes your friend, the Doctor, too. You can talk to him about your matches, just don't reveal any crucial ranking information to him."

Not like there's anyone Otacon'd tell it to, Snake thought but nodded anyway.

"This next rule pairs with the previous: Absolutely no outside parties are allowed anywhere behind the fenced off area. Do not destroy, steal or deface any property of the Main building, including all outside property and the Super Dome. Outside property includes recreational areas for the competitors and areas for the employees, such as the gardens, livestock ranches, garages, farms, you get the idea. I trust you can distinguish these places. Also, do not threaten or be a nuisance to the alloys. They are here to work and to help you, but they are still sentient beings like you and I. Treat them with respect." Master Hand warned. Snake glanced at the two alloys beside him.

"Respect all the other competitors. Do not steal or deface any of their property. Do not enter their rooms without their express permission. There will be no sabotaging of others. And most importantly, there is to be absolutely no intimate relationships between competitors. Failure to comply with any of these rules will result in massive point deductions. Violations of the last two rules will be immediate expulsion." The Hand finished.

Snake humored himself. "What about after the tournament ends? Are relationships allowed then?"

"If the both of you have been permanently dropped from the Roster then yes, I don't see a problem with it." Master Hand responded, quite nonchalantly. Snake was surprised. He had been joking, but apparently some competitors can actually become romantic with each other. This place is just full of surprises.

"Those are the House Rules Snake, do you think you will be able to comply with them?" Master Hand asked.

"Should be no problem." He replied.

"We'll give you a copy of the House Rules in case you forget them. Please be sure to give them a once over, there are plenty of smaller rules I did not mention that will also result in point deductions, although minor."

#64 slid a small booklet across the table to him. Snake took it.

"Do you understand all these rules as I have explained them to you?" Master Hand asked. Snake grunted his acknowledgment. "Then please, sign your name on the dotted line."

He took a moment to skim over the contract in front of him again, re-reading all the rules Master Hand had said aloud, to make sure he didn't miss any fine print. He picked up a pen.

"Your REAL name, please." The Hand added. Snake looked up at the glove. It appeared Master Hand knew that as well. He proceeded to sign.

Snake handed the paperwork to #64, who walked back to Master Hand and displayed the signature to him. "Excellent! Everything appears to be in order. You are officially on board. Welcome to the Super Smash Brothers Tournament, Snake!" The Hand said cheerily, "Now, we can continue onto other matters."

One of the alloys on Snake's side passed over another stack of papers along with what looked like a credit card.

"This is your GC Card. I'm sure you're familiar with debit cards and how they work." Master Hand said, "This is essentially the same thing. This will hold all of your winnings and how you will pay for everything on the island."

Snake picked up the card. It was gold and black, the symbol of the circle and the four intersecting lines adorned the front. It only had about ten numbers and a weird looking barcode in the corner.

"All money here is electronic. No physical cash of any type. When you go back home after the tournament is over, all the money on this card will be transferred to any bank accounts you have. You keep all the money you've earned from matches." Master Hand added.

#64 finally spoke. "But first, you'll need to open a GC account so we'll have a place to put your earnings. Every competitor is granted three thousand GC, or Gold Coins, to start off." Her voice was strangely soothing.

Snake raised his eyebrows. Three thousand? Just to start off? He was impressed at first but the feeling quickly disappeared. Three thousand was a lot back home, but this place and it's currency was no doubt completely different. Who knows how much a single GC, or gold coin, was really worth here.

Gold Coin? That's the name of their currency? Sounds kind of childish, like something out of a video game, Snake thought.

#64 went over the paper work with him. Like any bank, he would be charged a small monthly fee just for having an account. Other than that, there were no major setbacks. He signed the paperwork and was informed his card was already active.

"It appears everything has been squared away. The paperwork has been signed and Snake, you have been made aware of all the rules." Master Hand said. " From here on out you are free to do as you please until the tournament begins. I just ask that you stay out of trouble."

Snake had caught the tone of the hand's floaty voice. He couldn't help but smirk.

#64 spoke again. "We'll summon you again at a later time. You'll still need to be educated on how the tournament system works - the Grid, the Point System, what weapons will be allotted to you and in-ring regulations that you must also follow. Be sure to check your Terminal for the notification."

"There is a tour guide waiting for you outside Snake. He will show you all the shops and buildings on the property." The Hand added, "This place is pretty big and one can easily get lost. I suggest you take the tour."

Snake muttered a thanks, and got up to leave, tucking the GC card in his pocket.

"Oh, and Snake?"

He turned around. "Yeah?"

"Some places are smoke-free. There are signs posted. I ask that you take all of your smoking breaks outside, if possible. There are children here." Master Hand finished.

Children? "What about in my own room?" Snake asked.

"That would be a smoking hazard. House rules."

Snake twisted his face into a grimace. Can't even smoke in my own room. "Okay." He said, a bit in defeat, "Can I even buy cigarettes here?"

"The General Store sells them. You'll find everything you need there." The Hand answered.

Snake's mood went from slightly sour to absolutely elated, though he didn't show it. He waved another thanks and left, closing the door to the boardroom behind him.

The restricted smoking was a real kick in the gut but he was relieved to know that they did sell cigarettes here. He didn't have to smoke a stick once a week in order to ration them. Might as well celebrate right now.

Snake reached into an inside pocket of his trenchcoat and pulled out his pack of smokes. He shook one out and carried it in his hand until he reached the outside of the Main building. He stuck the cig in his mouth and flipped open his zippo.

"Excuse me, Mr. Snake?" Said a voice.

His precious smoking time was interrupted, was there a no smoking sign around? A yellow horned alloy appeared next to him, holding some papers in it's glowing orb-hand. Uh oh. Was he going to get a write-up?

"I was calling to you back inside. Guess you didn't hear me. Master Hand has asked me to show you around the place, as is customary for every newcomer." The alloy said.

Whew, so he wasn't busted after all. "You're the Tour Guide?" Snake asked.

The yellow alloy took the paper it was holding and unfolded it. It was a detailed map of the grounds. "Yes sir. I'll show you the areas you have access to and others that are off limits. We can start back in the lobby of the Main building, there you can learn the history of how the Smash Brothers Tournament started. We'll make our way up each floor from there, and then we'll go outside to the grounds to-"

Snaked raised his hand. "Uh, thanks but no thanks. I'd rather go looking around by myself, if that's okay."

The alloys' head shot up from it's map. "Huh?"

Snake pointed to the paper. "You can just mark off what areas I'm not allowed in, and I'll stay away. I can memorize a place a whole lot better if I explore it myself."

And he could. Due to extensive military training, Snake had developed a superior mental mapping ability. The nuclear installation Shadow Moses and the false clean-up plant Big Shell were both massive complexes that Snake explored from top to bottom, mapping it all out in his mind. Even now he could recall details of what hallways lead to where and even the locations of water heater and storage closets. This was no different. If Snake could explore the place himself, poking his head into every room, getting lost wouldn't be a problem.

The alloy just kind of stared at him, rubbing it's round head.

"We can refuse right? The tours are not mandatory?" Snake asked.

"Well, no. You don't have to take them..." The alloy replied.

Snake waved his hand with assurance. "It has nothing to do with you, it's just that I prefer to go it alone. I'll tell your bosses you gave me the tour, if they ask."

It shrugged. "Well, okay, if that's what you want."

The yellow alloy took the time to mark areas on the map, where Snake could go and what places where off limits to all non-personnel. Had Snake gone with the alloy, he would have been able to enter these rooms.

After thanking the alloy, Snake folded up the map and tucked it into his trenchcoat pocket. Of course he would look into the the off-limit areas. He knew better than to just blindly trust any organization, especially one appearing so generous. He'd learned the hard way that everyone and everything has it's dark secrets.

What to do now though? It was only just afternoon, maybe he could check out the stores in town. But a rumbling in his gut told him he should get something to eat first. He didn't exactly have a proper breakfast. For the first time in ten years he had overslept. He only had time to drink a cup of gross-tasting coffee before he was taken to the Main building. Damn that mattress was comfortable. He couldn't wait to go to sleep tonight.


According to the map the Cafeteria was somewhere in Town, just down the main road that led from the Main building. Snake walked down the concrete sidewalk, which was sprinkled with rocksalt to melt the ice. The crunching beneath his boots was a welcoming sound to his ears. It was something he hadn't heard since moving from his old home in cold, snowy Alaska. He remembered the front and back porches of his cabin were always decorated with rocksalt, so much so, it had permanently discolored the wood.

Lines of tall, naked trees ran parallel to the sidewalk, and in-between them were ornate, black steel street lamps. The sidewalk splintered out to the entrances of the local shops.

Snake eventually came to a giant stone fountain which, according to the map, was directly in the center of Town. The road split into many directions from here. He stopped to observe the fountain for a moment. It was a giant stone sphere with two intersecting lines cut into it, along with an assortment of other angular shapes and jagged edges. Snake thought it was a bit gaudy. The fountain wasn't on, of course, but he couldn't imagine where water would spout out of the thing.

He continued his stroll to the cafeteria. He pulled the rule book out from his pocket and began to idly flip though the pages. He read the extensive list of minor rules to himself.

"Do not steal food from the gardens. Point deduction. Do not steal or borrow tools from the Garages. Point deduction. Do not pick, stow away, hoard, or grow your own pikmin plants. Point deduction. ...What's a pikmin?" He wondered aloud. He flipped through more pages. "No public drunkenness. No public lewdness. Geez, what are these people, animals?"

The Codec rang in his ear. He answered.

"Hey Snake. How's the second day out there on the other side of the universe?" Came Otacon's voice.

"Not bad. Just got out of a meeting with Master Hand and his shiny team of executives. Looks like I'm officially onboard now." He replied.

"I thought you were officially onboard when you accepted the invitation?"

"I had to sign some paperwork. Don't know why exactly, this whole place is Master Hand's creation. Everything is basically his law. But he did bestow upon me a credit card, a half-inch thick rule book, and a map. Of the whole place." Snake grinned.

"Looks like you have some exploring to do."

"An alloy was even kind enough to mark the off-limit areas too."

"So, what will you hit first?"

Snake stopped to look at his surroundings. "I was thinking of getting the obvious out of the way, looking around town. But there's so much ground to cover here." Snake took the map out of his back pocket and glanced over it. "I'm in the middle of town now, just passed the...main square...there's a lot of shops and buildings here. Lots of connecting roads too. According to the map these buildings are nothing but repair shops, tailors, a forging shop and garages. There's even a dentist office and a dry cleaners."

"Sounds like any old normal town. What do the buildings look like? Are they, you know, alien-looking?" Otacon did a poor job of hiding the excitement in his voice.

"If you're referring to anything from your weird cartoons, no. These buildings look like the ones back home. Brick and concrete. The only thing alien-looking is the Dome. It floats."

"The Super Dome? Where all the matches are going to take place?"

"Yeah, how did you know?"

"When those alloy-people hooked up the deep-space satellite receiver, aside from watching the tournament in high definition, it also gave me access to their aptly-named 'Smasher Encyclopedia.'" Otacon replied. "It's an database of everything to do with the tournament, from the competitors, to the rules, and the Super Dome itself. I've read all about it." There was a hint if smugness in Otacon's voice. "Well, read what I can. The Encyclopedia is not complete. I suspect it won't be until the tournament officially starts."

"I see. Otacon, it'll be your job to keep an eye out for any updates. If you need to, I'm sure you can hack into the database no problem. I'll do recon from this side." Snake said.

"Come on Snake, did you forget who I am?" Otacon retorted.

"Right. Master Hand mentioned there's a merchant Port Town at the other end of the island during the meeting. He says most of the shops there are closed but there are some businesses open. Until the tournament starts, we're free to go and do as we wish-"

"Hey mister!"

Snake stopped mid-sentence when a tiny voice called out to him. He turned around and came face to face with two boys. He recognized them as the same two boys that he saw snowball fighting yesterday when he drove past in a shuttle. Snake was slightly jarred by their strange faces again.

"Who was that?" Otacon asked.

"Uh, just a couple of kids. I'll call you back." Snake disconnected the Codec, but not before hearing Otacon's bewildered "Kids? Alien kids?!" He quickly folded up the map and stuck that, along with the tiny rule book, back into his trenchcoat pocket.

Snake pointed to himself. "You talking to me?"

"Yeah you," The black haired child with the small eyes answered. "We saw you on the shuttle yesterday. Are you a new Smasher?"

"Smasher?" Snake repeated. Did he mean competitor? "Uh...yeah, I am."

Both boys shared a look of excitement between them. The black haired boy spoke again, "Whats' your name?"

"Solid Snake."

The boys both laughed. It was the cat-eyed child's turn to speak. "That's a funny name!"

Snake put his hands on his hips. "Well what're your names?" He asked. His tone was a little more defensive than he meant it to be.

"My name's Link." The cat-eyed child answered.

"And I'm Ness." Said the other boy, pointing to himself proudly. "We're Smashers too!"

Snake scoffed. "You're fighters? You're just kids."

"And we're tough!" The child named Link held up his arms, showcasing his "guns."

"Don't underestimate us because we're kids." The boy named Ness declared.

Snake stared at them. "Uh huh. You two are fighters. Where are your parents?"

Both children responded oddly to his question with looks of confusion. Link's expression changed to one as if he were trying to recall something. Ness glanced at his companion and then looked back to Snake. "Where are yours?" He asked.

Snake made a face. "I'm a grown man."

"Grownups have parents too. So where are yours?" Ness asked again.

Snake narrowed his eyes at the child. "Alright, you got me. What do you kids want?"

"We just wanted to say hi. You're brand new here, just like me." Link said.

"Like you?"

"And because you're new, you have to be shown the ropes," Ness butted in. "Luckily for you this is my third time Smashing, so I know all about the place. If you need anything Solid Snake, you can come to me." Ness gave him a winning thumbs up.

Just who was this kid? "Uuh, thanks. Catch you two later." Snake picked his pace back up but unfortunately the kids followed.

"Hey, who were you talking to earlier?" Link asked.

"A friend." Snake answered.

The children looked around. "But there was no one else there."

Snake tapped his ear. "I talk to my friend in here. Two-way radio implant."

"In your mind? Hey, are you the one Pit's always talking to?" Ness asked.

"Pit?"

"No, Pit said his friend's name was Palu...something." Link said to Ness. Guess the kids missed the part about the internal radio, if they even knew what that was. "So, where are you going Mister?"

"Get some grub."

"You're heading to the Cafeteria right? You passed it." Ness said.

Snake stopped. He took another look around. How did he miss it? He was sure he just had to go down the main road and he'd eventually reach it. Probably because he wasn't looking at his map, he was just trying to get away from the kids. That and he had no idea what the building looked like.

Ness pointed in the opposite direction. "You have to take that street back there and you'll see it. It's a big glass building."

"Oh right...thanks."

"Why don't we just take you there ourselves? I'm feeling hungry, what about you Link?" Ness asked his friend.

"I could eat." Link replied happily.

Snake was about to protest when the boys each grabbed a hold of a jacket sleeve and tugged him along. Snake nearly fell over, hunched low in their little grasps. He complained that he didn't need their help, he could find the place on his own, but the boys ignored his grumblings.

They dragged him to the side street Ness had pointed out. Immediately a large, pointed building came into view. Part of the building jutted out like an arrow, and was covered top to bottom in windows. That whole place was the cafeteria?

Snake didn't let up on his grumblings and the kids still ignored him. They pulled him down the street, chatting noisily until they abruptly came to a halt.

"Uh oh." Said one kid.

"Trouble." Said the other.

Trouble? Snake was finally able to shake his arms free of their tiny grasps. There was a scene going on down the road. The first thing Snake saw was giant spiked...turtle shell? That was some strange statue, he thought, until it moved. It wasn't a statue at all, it was some kind of huge scaly monster!

Snake then heard another child's voice. "Give it back!"

The monster laughed. "Come an' get it!" It held something in it's clawed hand, out of reach of yet another child, who was trying his damnest to get it back.

"Give it back I said!" The boy demanded again. The creature held the object low to him and the child made another desperate grab for it, only for it to be snatched away again. The monster let out a bellowing laugh.

Ness and Link took off running toward them. Snake called after the boys to stop but it was no use. Muttering about a situation he was about to involve himself in, he followed.

"Hey you big ugly lizard! " Little Link bravely called out. The spiked creature stopped teasing the other child and turned around.

Snake was able to get a better look at it now. The creature could have been nine feet tall if it had stood up straight from it's sloping posture. It had two curved horns and flaming red hair in a mohawk style. The monster's skin was scaly and green, with yellowed claws and a massive shell on its back, also covered in yellowed spikes. The lizard wore a spiked collar, and spiked cuffs on both wrists and biceps. Snake thought the creature's 80s punk rock accessories made it look like a ridiculous, ugly pet.

"Well, if it isn't Hat-kid and the Smaller Link." The creature growled. Then it looked at him. "And who's this? Your bodyguard?" Snake narrowed his eyes but said nothing. It lifted it's jowls in an evil smirk. "Lookie here, it's a newbie! You brats recruit him into your little club yet?"

"Give that back, or we'll make you." Ness warned, pointing a finger at the creature. It laughed, a deep guttural sound. His big belly jiggled. Snake could smell a faint whiff of smoke.

"You mean this?" The monster held up the object in his claws. It was a purple colored toy in the shaped of a snake. "Aren't you kids a little too old for toys?" He said.

A toy?

Outraged, the other kid cried out, "My friend gave it to me!" He charged at the monster. With one swing, the creature knocked the child down against the sidewalk. Snake had seen enough.

Angered, Ness and Link charged forward, shouting war cries, but Snake caught both boys by the hoods of their jackets and pulled them back behind him. They complained loudly but Snake ignored them. He was going to take on the monster alone.

He marched right up to the monster's scaly face. "Hey, Anguirus! You get off beating up a little kid?" He growled, "Or are you just too weak to pick a real fight?"

"A-Anguirus?" The creature snarled, offended by the nickname. He jabbed Snake in the chest with a yellowed claw, "Listen here newbie, the name's Bowser! King of the Koopas! And don't you ever forget it."

The smell of smoke was stronger now. Snake realized it was coming from Bowser. "Coop-a king? ...Like a chicken coop?" Snake laughed, "So, you're king of the chickens, huh?"

Ness and Link snorted loudly from behind him. Bowser's scaly face twisted into anger.

"I am not the king of chickens! I am the king of Koopas!" He retorted.

"Makes sense, they say chickens evolved from dinosaurs." Snake taunted and the kids burst into laughter. Sometimes he was too witty for his own good.

The smoke smell became foul, like burning sulfur. Snake saw embers flutter out of Bowser's mouth. What this creature about to blow fire?

"I'm gonna make you pay for that, Scruffy!" Bowser snarled.

Snake was not about to back down."You know, fighting between competitors outside the Ring is forbidden. House Rules." He threatened.

"I don't see the Hands around, or any alloys. So whose going to stop me?"

"I will."

The chicken king laughed again. "You're real funny, Scuffy. Too bad I'll never get to hear more of your jokes!"

Bowser moved to attack, he opened his mouth wide, heat and light emitting from the back of his throat. With lightning quick speed, Snake punched Bowser right on the nose. Instantly the light in Bowser's mouth died and he cried out in pain, clutching his snout.

"D'Ooow!"

This had taken Snake by surprise. His first instinct was to just punch the lizard in his loud mouth, but he didn't realize how soft and fleshy his nose actually was.

If his nose was that sensitive, then maybe...

Bowser whimpered, then growled angrily again, "Now you're gonna get it!"

Snake curled his fist and buried it deep into Bowser's gut, which had been the same flesh color as his nose. The large reptile doubled over, dropping down on his fat knees. Snake grabbed a hold of his nose and squeezed it in an iron tight grip.

"D'oooow! Stohp, stohp, stooohp! Let gwooo!" Bowser pleaded.

"I told you I'd put a stop to you, didn't I?" Snake growled.

"Stohp! That really hurts!"

"Are you're going to leave the kid alone?" Snake asked. When he didn't answer, Snake twisted Bowser's nose painfully the other way.

"Alwight! Alwight! Fine, I'll stohp! Just let gwoo!" Small tears began to pool in the corners of his eyes. Snake loosened his grip and Bowser immediately scooted away. He nursed his nose for a second before turning to Snake again.

"This isn't over Scuffy!" Bowser pointed a meaty claw to him, "When we're in the ring...not even the Grid can save you!"

Bowser could threaten all he liked, but Snake couldn't take the talking Godzilla costume seriously, with his swollen red nose, tears running down his scaly cheeks and the way he kind of limp-ran when he retreated down the snow covered street. He slipped once on the ice, much to the children's amusement.

"That was awesome!" Link cheered.

"You really showed that big dumb lizard." said Ness.

Snake bent down and picked up the purple snake toy Bowser had dropped during their scuffle. It was one solid, bright color, with a red tongue that was sewn on, and plastic eyes that gave off a thousand yard stare. It looked a bit silly.

The other child stood nearby. He looked at Snake in awe. Snake approached him, bent down on one knee to his level, and held the toy out to him. "Here you go kid."

"Th...thanks for that." The child mumbled, taking the toy back. He inspected it for damage. The boy had a blond cowlick, and, Snake noticed, small eyes just like Ness' eyes. Could the two be related?

"No problem. What's your name?" Snake asked.

"Lucas." The child murmured.

"Hey Lucas, my name's Snake."

"Snake?"

"And my name is Link!" The children appeared next to him again. "And this is Ness."

Link had a big, friendly grin plastered on his face, but Ness' expression did not match his friend. He was eyeing Lucas, scrutinizing him, like a child inspecting a wrapped present. This scrutiny did not go unnoticed by Lucas either, who furrowed his brow in confusion.

Ness grabbed a hold of the timid boy's face, cheeks squished, and moved Lucas' head to the left, then right, examining him. Ness put an ear to the boy's head, as if trying to listen to his brain. He gave it a couple of knocks.

"Yep! You and me are the same." Ness declared, letting go of the other boy's face.

Lucas backed away, fixing his slightly mussed hair with a gloved hand. "What do you mean?"

"You're a PSI user. I am too!" Ness proudly pointed to himself.

Lucas' eyes lit up. "Really?"

"Uh huh. I can feel the very same power resonating from you. You and I should be friends." Ness gave a big smile.

Lucas returned a small one. "Okay."

Snake grunted in confusion. What was 'psy?'

"We were just about to get a snack with our new friend Snake. Do you want to join us Lucas?" Link asked.

"Sure. I was heading to the Cafeteria too, when that big monster stopped me." Lucas replied.

Ness snorted and waved his hand airily. "Don't pay any attention to that ol' overgrown turtle. Bowser likes to pick on people who are weaker than him, or who he thinks are weaker than him. He's all talk mostly."

Lucas nodded at Ness' words. He stuffed the purple toy snake into his jacket pocket.

"Besides, if things get hairy again, our friend Snake can defend us." Ness added.

Snake huffed. "Say what? Aren't you guys 'competitors' too?" He used as much sarcasm as he thought necessary for the children to understand, but they completely ignored that too.

Ness declared that they should all get going and Link pulled on his jacket sleeve again, dragging him along. Snake grumbled.


The atmosphere was peaceful and quiet, almost eerily still, in the Gardens. The tall, snow covered hedges made for excellent walls, which help to conceal the small group of people gathering in one of the Garden's many snow covered gazebos. Four people milled around inside, chatting about nonsense things to pass the time.

Samus and the two princesses sat on the concrete benches while Captain Falcon stood, arms crossed, by the gazebos' doorway. It was a nice gesture to let the women take the seats, Falcon was a gentleman like that, but Samus' butt was starting to get cold. The snow crunched. All heads turned to the two heavily clad figures approaching.

The two figures entered the gazebo and removed their snow dusted hoods. One of them was a young man with choppy blond locks and pointed ears similar to Zelda's. The other was a taller, older man with head of short, deep blue colored hair. A glinting, gold tiara adorned his head.

The men first bowed to the princesses in a show of respect and greeting. Zelda and Peach nodded back. This was the first time Samus had seen either of these men since her arrival here, and they were just as happy to see her.

The blond haired youth was the first to greet her, giving her his warm, genuine smile she knew so well. He bowed to her too, though not as low. "Samus! It's been so long. How are you?"

This lad was a knight in service to Princess Zelda. His name is Link. Determined, kind, a bit clumsy, and when he slept, he slept like a rock, Link was truly the definition of a knight. Samus had been friends with him since the first tournament. She greeted him with a warm hug, relieved to get off the cold bench.

The other man had been a newcomer last year and, thankfully, had returned again. He was kind, diplomatic and valued his friends and allies like they were gold. No, even more than gold. This man was also royalty, like Peach and Zelda, he was a prince. His name is Marth.

"My dear friend Samus," He greeted with a nod instead, "How have you been all these years?"

She directed her answer to both men, "Under too much stress and in too much danger. But I'm sure it's been the same for both of you. Zelda has told me about your latest escapade, Link." The Hyrulean knight laughed nervously. "What about you Marth? I hope things have been good for you and the people of Archeanna."

He gave her a smile, though she could see there was a sadness behind it. "I will not lie and say things have been easy. They most certainly have not been during our years apart but," Marth looked away, his cheeks turning red. "I did get married."

There was a rush of congratulations from everyone, mostly from an overly excited Peach.

"Congrats Marth! Whose the lucky gal?" Falcon asked, giving a hearty pat to the princes' back.

"Her name is Caeda. She is the princess of a neighboring kingdom. We were childhood friends." Marth replied.

"Caeda? Wasn't she was one of your allies in the war for your kingdom?" Zelda asked. Marth nodded.

"Hold on, that makes you a King now, doesn't it Marth?" Peach piped, putting a finger to her chin. He nodded again.

Link's head turned so fast, Samus was surprised she didn't hear his neck crack. He looked at Marth in absolute horror and quickly fell to one knee, bowing on the ground before him. "F-Forgive me Sir! I had no idea!" He said.

Marth waved his hands frantically. "It's alright Sir Link, I didn't tell anyone! After all, this place is ruled by another. Rank doesn't seem to have any meaning here, among anyone."

But Link remained on his knee, apologizing profusely. The princesses muffled their snickers. Samus and Falcon looked at each other. She knew this was an odd a sight for him as it was for her.

They all chatted some more, catching up on the goings on in their lives since last they'd seen each other. There was another crunching in the snow and two more figures appeared in the garden. One of them was loud and bickering with the other.

"Tell me why again we had to meet out here?" One of them, a blue colored, bird-shaped anthromorph complained. He shook a layer of snow off of his feathery arms, feathery head of hair and heavy jacket as he entered the gazebo. His companion, a brown colored fox anthromorph, push past, rolling his eyes in annoyance and dusting show off the shoulders of his jacket.

"Quit complaining already." The fox sighed, "Apologies for being late everyone. You know how Falco is."

"Hey!"

"It was no problem Fox," Falcon said. "Did you see Mario and Luigi on the way here?"

"Unfortunately they can't make it," Fox replied. "We'll just spread the word to them next time we see 'em. So, since it looks like everyone's here, let's go ahead and get started."

"The sooner the better." The bird named Falco griped.

Zelda began the meeting, standing to address everyone. "First, I want to thank all of you for making your way out here in this cold. You've been summoned here today to discuss the issue of certain competitors returning for this years' Smash Brother's Tournament. As you all know, the dark wizard Ganondorf has been invited back to compete once again. Bowser has returned as well."

Samus spoke too. "Just as we did last year, it looks like we'll have to band together again to prevent those two from winning the grand prize. Which explains why we're meeting all the way out here Falco," She sighed, addressing the anthromorph, who was still complaining under his breath. "We couldn't take a chance of being overheard by one of the staff in the cafeteria, or anywhere else. There are no alloys out here because there's nothing to tend to at the moment. All of these flower hedges won't bloom until spring."

Falco just huffed at her response and muttered again about how he was still freezing.

It was Falcon's turn to speak. "I don't think anyone needs to be reminded that sabotaging of others is a major violation of the rules. We all signed the same paperwork when we got here. This pact alone would get every one of us disqualified. But I'm willing to risk it if it means the safety of my friends, and potentially all life as we know it."

Falcon continued, "There is also the potential issue of the new arrivals. I have it on good authority that the very last invitee arrived yesterday. According to the updated Encyclopedia, as of this morning, there are thirty five competitors this time, including the kids and the Pokemon." He motioned to Samus, "Samus brought up a good point, that some of these new arrivals may not be good people, in fact we may have incurred even more trouble on our hands than before. That being said, not all of these newcomers will be our enemies either."

"You mean we could have gained some new allies?" Link asked.

"That's exactly right." Zelda replied, "What we're asking all of you to do, is to scout out these new arrivals. Befriend them. Assess them. Find out what kind of people they are. But most importantly, if we can trust them."

Everyone voiced their agreement, and one by one, announced that they were in.

Zelda nodded. "We'll meet again at a later time to discuss what we've found out. Is everyone okay with that?" Everyone nodded back to her. "Alright, this meeting is adjourned. Please everyone, be careful."

Chapter Text

The next morning Snake checked the Terminal to find two emails waiting for him from the Official Tournament Staff.

The first email was sent from Master Hand. He announced that the very last competitor had finally arrived on the island, therefore completing the Roster for the Tournament, which was an impressive thirty-five. Snake paused. He had arrived two days ago, does that mean he was the last one everyone was waiting for?

Master Hand went on to brag about all the changes and improvements that had been made to the island. A wider variety of shops had been added in town, there were improvements to the food and medical care, more variety of down time activities, additional transportation vehicles and new programs added to the terminal for competitors convenience, including the soon-to-be-completed "Smasher Encyclopedia."

Master Hand finished his bragging by mentioning a new feature added to the island itself - weather. The island will now feature normal "seasons" such as Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall, without all the natural disasters that usually accompany, like tornadoes, hurricanes, monsoons, drought, blizzards or damaging lighting storms.

Lastly Master Hand announced an official start date for the Tournament - Month 2, day 15. It seems the months didn't have names, probably not the days either. Well, since there were seven days in a week, he'd just think of them as they were back home. He looked at the digital calendar in the corner of the Terminal screen. Month 12. Day 28. December 28th. The year was close to ending.

The other email said he was required to go to the Super Dome today to be educated on the technical workings of the tournament. A shuttle would be there to pick him up promptly at 10AM.

While he forced the black coffee down his throat, Snake did some channel surfing. There were all sorts of odd programmings, most were news channels from other planets - Federation News, WZZ Port Town and Corneria Today. It all looked and sounded pretty normal, until he came across a peculiar program called Pokemon Beauty Contests. It was a show about strange animals dressed in pageant-like costumes that displayed amazing powers. The animals could breath fire, generate electricity and even create illusions, all by the command of people dressed in matching pageant wear. It was all done with beauty and grace. The show was too cute for him, that is, until he saw an enormous dog with a tiger stripe coat and perfectly groomed fur. It had to be the size of a horse. How could a dog be so big?

Which reminded him, he should check back home. Hopefully Otacon was up. Snake put a finger to his ear and dialed the frequency.

"Hey Snake, morning...I assume. How're things?" Otacon greeted.

"That's amazing, you're awake!" Snake said.

"Ha ha. Very funny. I can be thankful you're not here to break into my house and throw stuff at me."

"You know, people used to get paid for that."

Otacon ignored Snake's quip. "Anyway, what's up? Calling to check in?"

"Yeah. Any new developments?"

"Nothing new to report."

"Heard from Smih?"

"No."

Snake sighed. Of course nothing'd changed, he'd only been gone a few days. "How's Chief doing?" He asked.

"She's been pretty down since you left. She keeps going back to your duplex and sitting outside the kitchen door. Or standing in the yard where you left in that car. She looks at me like she's asking where you went." Otacon replied.

Snake was trying to cover up the little ache he felt in his heart, but it came out as a weird grunt. "Have you been giving her, her pills?"

"Of course, every morning."

"Okay, as soon as anything happens give me a ring. I don't care what time it is."

"I know, I know. Oh! Don't forget, you still need to describe that map to me so I can make my own schematic of it."

"Right. Later. I got an appointment at ten."

They bid their goodbyes, Snake asking Otacon to give Chief a belly rub for him, and hung up. It was nearly 10AM now. Time to go.

Taking his jacket and trusty smokes, he locked up the apartment and stepped outside into the cool air. It was snowing very lightly and the downdraft from the mountain wasn't as bad today. Already it was shaping up to be a nice day. He'd taken two steps off his porch when he heard a voice call to him.

"Hey, you're a new face!"

Snake looked up to see a man walking down the sloping path towards him. It was the first adult human he'd seen here.

"Just moved in." He humored the guy.

The man stopped in front him. "What's your name stranger?" He asked.

"Solid Snake. And yours?"

The man offered his hand. "Douglas Jay Falcon. You can just call me Falcon though. Nice to meet you." Snake shook his hand. He took a moment to observe the guy. The man stood as just as tall as himself and had short, jet black hair. He wore large dark sunglasses that obscured his eyes and a puffy jacket with racing stripes. He stood casually with his hands sliding back into his pockets. Snake could barely see the top of a scar going through the man's left eyebrow. "Solid Snake, huh? That's a heck of a nickname."

"Code name, actually." Snake corrected.

The man named Falcon tilted his head. "Code name? Are you military?"

"Special forces."

Falcon raised his eyebrows. He almost seemed impressed. "I see. What's your real name?"

"You can just call me Snake." He replied, mirroring the man's earlier words.

Falcon grinned. "Yeah, alright. Well, allow me to be the first to welcome you to the neighborhood, Snake."

"Much obliged. You a competitor?"

"Third year in a row."

"Third year, huh?" Looks like he had a veteran on his hands.

"Yeah, as long as Master Hand keeps sending me invitations, I'll keep showing up."

"He must like you." Snake commented. This made Falcon laugh.

"Must. I've made some friends here over the years. I come to see them as well. It also makes for a nice vacation." He responded.

So there are other veterans here, Snake thought. "Hard to think of fighting thirty-five other people as a vacation."

"There's lots of down time in-between matches. You won't be constantly competing. You're gonna meet all kinds of people here. Definitely make some new friends yourself." Falcon smiled.

"Can't wait." Snake's voice sounded flatter than he meant it to. The man laughed again.

"Just because we're all opponents doesn't mean we can't be friends, right?"

Snake shrugged. "Guess you're right." He then waved a hand at the man, "Well, it was nice meeting you, but I've got somewhere to be."

"If you're heading down the mountain then we're going the same direction." Falcon said.

Both men walked down the path together. Falcon made light conversation. "So, which star system do you hail from, Snake?"

This question caught Snake off guard. He had no idea. Further more, this was an odd question for a person to ask. Was this man an alien? "Uhh...Milky...way?" He answered awkwardly.

Falcon tilted his head again, "Never heard of that. What stellar sector is that in?"

Snake crossed his arms. "I'll be perfectly honest with you. I have no idea. My uh...planet...hasn't achieved interstellar travel yet." Those words came out awkwardly too. He'd never imaged he'd be saying this to someone.

Falcons tone was humorous. "That's quite alright. Not every planet has. Have you at least established trade with other planets?"

"No."

"Communicated with other species?"

"No."

"Discovered other planets?"

"With life? No."

"Your world is still so young! Well, it's baby steps. So listen, if you ever need any help or have trouble finding any places Snake, don't be afraid to ask."

Boy the people here sure are generous, He thought. "Thanks, but I think I've already got that covered by a couple of kids."

"Oh? You must mean Ness. Has he taken you under his wing already? You should be honored." Falcon said.

"Under his wing?" Snakes tone was a tad sarcastic. "He said he was a competitor. I thought you had to leave family back home. Master Hand lets his parents bring him along?"

"No, his mom and dad are at home. Ness really is a competitor."

Snake stopped dead. His jaw dropped. "But...he's just a kid!"

Falcon stopped too and looked back at him. "That's what I thought myself until I fought him. He's actually pretty strong. He'll definitely be stronger than me when he's my age. His PSI abilities are not to be underestimated."

"I heard him mention that. What is 'psy?'"

"You know, psychic powers."

"Ps-Psychic powers?" Snake blurted out.

Falcon laughed a third time. "You really are a newbie."

The man continued down the path. Snake followed. Children can fight too? What the hell kind of tournament was Master Hand running? How could he pit adults against children? Snake certainly wasn't going to fight them. But this Falcon guy apparently had no qualms about it. What was his deal? Snake was starting to get a headache.

The shuttle came into view down the hill, blindingly white against the snowy surroundings. They seriously needed to consider another color scheme for their vehicles. It was parked in the street at the Fork, a shiny alloy was standing outside along with another person.

"That your ride?" Falcon asked.

"Yeah."

"Well, it was nice meeting you Snake, but I've got places to be too. I'll see you around, yeah?" Falcon grinned warmly and they shook hands again.

"If I ever need to find you, where are you staying?" Snake asked.

Falcon pointed towards the cluster of houses the farthest up the mountain. "About fourth from the top. The walk is a little long, but I don't mind." Falcon pat him on the shoulder as he walked past. "Take care now."

"Yeah, same to you." Snake said.

Falcon walked past the shuttle, heading towards another path to the side of the road that lead to the Women's apartments. From what Snake could remember of the map, that path led to the island's Hanger.

So that man was one of the opponents Snake would be facing. Falcon. Better remember that name. Snake planned to look up the man's information once the Encyclopedia on the Terminal was complete. Or...maybe he'd have Otacon look it up for him.

Another human was waiting by the shuttle. He and Falcon looked at one another and Falcon bid him a cheery hello as he passed. Snake took note of the gaudy red cape the youth had pulled around himself. It looked thick and heavy. What was this kid? A wanna-be super hero? Although, judging by his rustic and fur-lined attire, Snake thought he looked like a vagabond from the renaissance era. He had a strange head of dark blue hair.

"Oh good, you're both here." The red colored alloy said. "I was gonna drive up to each of your apartments, but he was already waiting here, and I saw you coming down the mountain too. So I figured what's the point? Hop in."

The alloy waved an orb-hand over a panel on the outside of vehicle. A seagull-wing type door opened. The blue-haired youth stepped back at this. He appeared to be a little startled. Snake gave him an odd look as he passed and stepped into the shuttle first.

Inside the cabin was thankfully dark. Snake sat on the plush seats, the stranger sat opposite him. The door closed with a pneumatic hiss. There was a slight rumbling and the shuttle began to move. Snake looked out of the window to see the shuttle was rising from the ground and soon enough they were off, flying through the air above the streets. This ride was a lot smoother and more quiet than the deep space shuttle Snake had arrived in. He looked back at the young man, who was holding onto the seats for dear life.

"What's your name kid?" Snake asked.

"Ike...Ike Greil. Leader of the Greil mercenaries." The young man seemed to compose himself, sitting up straight and letting go of his deathly grip on the seats. "And you are?"

"Name's Snake." He offered his hand to Ike who shook it. The kid had a good grip. "You look a little young to be the leader of a group of mercs." He said.

Ike looked away. "...I took up the position from my father when he fell in battle."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Not at all. What is it you do, Snake?" Ike asked.

He shrugged. "Same thing. I perform wetwork destroying bi-pedal nuclear tanks."

Ike suddenly looked like he was trying to swallow a rock. "That...doesn't sound like the same thing."

"You look like you don't have technology were you come from." Snake observed.

"No, we don't," Ike looked outside, the shuttle was now flying above the tops of the mountains. "All this is...pretty new to me. This place is something I never could have imagined existed." Ike looked back to him, "You and that other fellow were actually the first beorc I've seen here."

"Beorc?" Snake asked.

"Beorc. You know...human." Ike replied. Snake gave the young man an odd look. Why did he almost whisper that word? Ike clarified, "Where I come from, human is an offensive word, especially to other species, so we use the word 'beorc' instead."

This was the oddest thing Snake had ever heard. "Other species?"

"Back in my country there are people called the Iaguz. They can shift forms between animals and beorc. My land is riddled with discrimination against them. I've seen a couple of Iaguz here, though their animals forms appear quite different." Ike said.

"Shifting forms between animals and humans? Sounds like werewolves." Snake commented.

"Werewolves? What is that?" Ike asked.

Snake couldn't help but laugh, "Something tells me you're going to be asking that question a lot here, kid."

Ike furrowed his brows at Snake.


Ike was holding onto the seats again as the transport shuttle descended, arriving at last at the Super Dome. Snow billowed outside, kicked up by the shuttle's landing. The door to the cabin hissed open. Ike didn't seem to react to it this time. Snake wondered why the guy was so jumpy.

Outside was a busy scene. There were other transport shuttles parked everywhere, some were taking off and others were coming in. Several golf-cart type vehicles zoomed around the lot, pulling trailers and hauling crates.

A cart pulled up to another shuttle that had just landed not far from them. A group of alloys came pouring out of the shuttle and began to load crates from the ship's cargohold onto a waiting trailer with super efficiency. They worked in total sync. It was impressive to watch.

Snake caught sight then of something odd in the distance. It looked like a strange tall, black pole. Snake squinted to see a little better, which was hard to do, considering the blinding white of the snow on the ground, the blinding white of the shuttles, and the stark white of the sky. He rubbed his eyes.

Snake wasn't able to tell what the hell the tall black thing was, that is, until a golf cart drove toward it and suddenly disappeared into darkness. It dawned on Snake then, the tall black thing was in fact, a gigantic doorway. His eyes followed it up and up and up. What he thought had been the sky was actually a massive building. A perfectly spherical dome. Snake remembered seeing this structure from atop the roof of the main building when he'd first arrived. It was huge from that distance, but up close it was monstrous. A few windows dotted the outside here and there, indicating there were multiple levels. Snake couldn't even guess as to how many. He saw Ike's jaw drop.

"So...this is the Super Dome." Snake said in awe.

"That is definitely bigger that the Apostle's church..." Ike mumbled to himself. Snake looked at him.

"Hello? Hello? Excuse me."

Snake and Ike were interrupted from their gawking. Snake looked around, not seeing where the little voice was coming from, until he spotted a small, round green alloy at his feet.

"Yes, yes. Down here. Good morning to the both of you!" The alloy greeted, waving an orb-hand. "I am your guide for the tour of the Super Dome today. The name is #620. You are Mr. Snake and Mr. Greil, correct?"

Snake and Ike both looked at each other then back at the alloy. They nodded and greeted it back, Ike was more formal than himself.

"Oh goodie. If you'll follow me then, we'll get the tour underway."

#620 waddled over to a golf cart that was parked nearby. Snake hadn't even heard the cart pull up, he'd been so distracted by the Dome. The green alloy hopped into the driver's seat. Snake didn't know how the alloy expected to drive, his arms could reach the steering wheel sure, but #620's tiny feet didn't even hang off the seat.

Snake sat in the seat next to the alloy and Ike sat in the seats behind. "Uhh, you sure you can drive this thing?" Snake asked.

"Of course I can." #620 replied matter o' factly. The alloy turned the cart on and it somehow drove forward, zooming off towards the huge doorway. Snake observed how the pedals on the floor moved by some invisible force.

I'll be damned, Snake thought.


#620 explained that the area they'd come from was called the Loading Port, where all the competitors were to arrive and deport via transport shuttles for their matches. The alloy went on a long winded explanation about the Super Dome, it's inception, and glorious history. Snake listened, but his attention was more on the door of the Dome as they approached. Driving inside was like being swallowed by a monster, until the bright lights inside illuminated the massive hallways within. #620 turned down a hall to the right.

Their first stop on the tour was a men's changing area. It was a locker room with showers and even an enclosed sauna. Snake thought it looked just like a locker room at a YMCA. #620 explained that competitors could change into their uniforms here, if they didn't wear them out of their apartments. They could freshen up after matches too. Snake couldn't help but think the vertical lockers on the back wall were just the right size to stuff a person into. A women's changing area was located down the other hallway to the left.

Next, #620 drove them to a massive area - the very heart of the Dome itself. Towering glass archways overlooked the grand stadium. Numerous TV screens were anchored on the walls, carts were parked all over the place and dozens of different colored alloys milled about, carrying in more TV screens and hauling plastic covered furniture to sectioned off, carpeted areas. As grand as the whole place was, it was a bit of a mess. Cables were strewn all over the floor, equipment boxes were stacked up high or opened, with more equipment spilling out of them. Some TV screens flickered on and off or had no picture entirely, their wires hanging loosely from the bottom.

"This is the area you and the others will be spending most of your time when in the Dome. This is called the Fighter's Bay. Pay it no mind right now, we're still setting up all the workings." #620 said as it parked the cart. They all disembarked and Snake followed the waddling alloy to the massive glass arches. They had to be over a hundred feet tall. Through the windows, Snake could see the inside of the actual stadium itself. There were levels upon levels of empty seats. The roof was covered in bright spotlights and right in the center was a large gray platform. It was floating in the air, suspended by what appeared to be jets on the bottom.

"See these arches? You'll be deployed from here." #620 said. It motioned to a circular pad with thin railings that was attached precariously to the edge of a sudden drop off in the floor. Snake peeked over the edge. The drop curved inward, where it went he didn't know. "This is called a caddie, it transports you to and from the stage."

"Does this thing fly?" Snake asked.

"Of course."

"Pretty small isn't it?"

"It can fit two people, you and your attending alloy. The caddie has a gyroscopic system that keeps it upright and balanced. Are you worried about falling?" #620 asked.

Snake ignored the alloy's tease. "Attending alloy?"

"An alloy who documents you've arrived a the stadium and are ready for your matches. Think of it as a handler of sorts."

Snake frowned. A Handler? They weren't going to follow them around were they?

"What is this?" Ike had spoken his first words since entering the Dome. Snake looked at what he'd was pointing to. Off to the side were white, egg-shaped machines. The one closest to them was opened, resembling a blooming flower. In the center of the machine was a flat pad with two feet placement markings.

"That is a Palette Pod. This machine is used to color a competitor's clothing and gear temporarily." #620 answered.

"Color our clothes?" Snake asked.

"It's used mostly for team matches. When it's two-on-two or three-on-one, your clothing is colored to correspond with what team you're on - Red or Blue. Makes it easier to keep track. The palette pod can do other colors too." #620's voice then became excited. He hopped side to side. "This year, Master Hand is giving the audience a chance to pick random colors for the competitors during some matches."

Ike made a weird noise behind Snake. The alloy waved an orb-hand. "But not to worry, the color is not permanent. It will be removed when the match is done. I'd show you how the Palette Pod works but we haven't gotten any of them running yet. Now, come along, it's time to go upstairs into the Computer Room."


"This is the Master System. Here we have your inventory and all other information pertaining to the tournament, such as stats, rank, points, etcetera..."

After a few flights of stairs, which #620 easily bounded over almost weightlessly, the alloy had taken them to a room above the Fighter's Bay, called the Computer Room. This place had a bay window too, though it was considerably smaller and much less wide than the massive arches below. It did provide a better view of the stadium however. #620 had introduced them to a blue female alloy who worked in the Computer Room. She'd told them her name was Bixx.

Bixx waved an orb-hand over a panel of screens on a waist-high terminal. A box titled 'Competitors' pulled up. She scrolled up a list and clicked on Snake's name. Several tabs populated. Profiles - Stats - Points - Penalties - Winnings - Combat, to name a few. The alloy clicked on the combat tab.

"We've taken data and scans of weaponry found on your planet and some of what you've used in the past," Bixx tapped the screen again, "Here are your current weapons selections, Mr. Snake."

He gaped. His weapons selections were a little...explosive. Rocket launchers, claymore mines, hand grenades. C4? To be used in the ring? Were they serious? That Grid must be one hell of a system if he could stick a brick onto someone and not decorate the stadium with their parts.

"Wait, what about my SOCOM?" Snake asked. He didn't see that in the selections. When Bixx asked what a SOCOM was, Snake explained it was a handgun and his main weapon of choice. The alloy shook her round head.

"Sorry, Master Hand never mentioned anything about adding that to the system." She pointed to screen, "If it's not in here, then you are unable to use it."

He grumbled. "Alright, but...how do we even use these these weapons? Am I gonna have all this strapped to my back or something?"

"The weapons are all code within the Grid, they will be generated during matches when you summon them." Bixx replied.

"Code?"

"Yes, when the Grid goes up, the space around you will transform into an entirely different place." Bixx pointed to the stadium outside the window.

"I remember Master Hand talking about that."

"Then he must have told you there is second Grid to prevent injury as well, but there is also a third Grid that works as a kind of...'printer', to put it simply." She explained, "This third Grid materializes your weapons. It also materializes the random items that will be dropped onto the field during matches."

"What are the random items?" Snaked asked. He recalled the Hand talking about assisted melee weapons during their first meeting at his dinning room table.

"Well, I can't tell you what all they are, the anonymity of the items is a factor in their projected usefulness, but," Bixx crossed her arms, "I can say that the items are such things as a baseball bat and a couple different types of bombs. To say the very least."

"Bombs, huh?" Snake repeated.

"There is another sort of useful item the Grid will also materialize. Assistance Trophies." Snake opened his mouth but Bixx held up a hand, "I know what you're going to ask. An Assistance Trophy is a replica of a real-like creature or person. These living things posses unique abilities and can be summoned to either aid you or hinder you in matches."

"So these items will come out of thin air?" Snake asked.

"No. They materialize from the Grid." Bixx repeated.

Snake still didn't get it. This stuff was too complicated for him to understand. "Okay, so how do we summon our weapons then?"

"Just hold out your hand, think about the weapon you want and it'll appear. The Grid will always know."

Snake wanted to ask more questions, but Bixx immediately turned her attention to Ike, clicking off Snake's profile on the terminal and bringing up his. She showed the swordsman his weapon selections as well. Snake got the feeling Bixx didn't really like him, her tone of voice was choppy and impatient with him.

After she was done, Bixx moved on to another topic. "Every competitor also has one recovery move. If you fall from the stage and the catchers get you, you'll loose a life, or points, depending on the match's stipulation. The recovery move prevents you from getting snatched by the catchers and brings you back to the stage, without loosing any lives or points."

"What are catchers?" Ike had asked his second question of the day.

Bixx walked away and returned with a clunky metal ring. It had to be a foot across and a couple inches thick. "This is a catcher. There will be several dozens of these rings floating around the stage during competition. We even have a few floating outside, above the opening." She pointed at the roof of the stadium outside the window. "The roof will be open during the spring, summer and fall times, or whenever the weather permits. We've had competitors fly that far up before."

Both men raised their eyebrows.

"And how do those work?" Snake asked, "The ring looks pretty small, how would it be able catch us?"

Bixx pressed some kind of switch on the ring and it instantly expanded a few inches. The ring hummed and a blue colored force field appeared in the center. Both men took a step back.

"The rings are capable of expanding to great widths. You'll be "caught" in the center, the ring will then bring you back to the stage and eject you out, while simultaneously resetting your Damage Percentage Counter to zero." Bixx said. Snake leaned forward to look at the curious technology. "Go ahead, put your hand in there."

Snake looked at the alloy like she was crazy, but the her lack of face didn't register back any emotion, or even assurance. So, reluctantly, Snake stuck his hand into the blue field. The sensations tingled slightly. He sank his whole arm into the ring and the tingly feeling traveled up to his bicep, the ring expanded wider. Snake peered on the other side of the ring but nothing was there. His whole arm just disappeared. He pulled it back out and the ring shrunk down to it's normal size.

"How are these...recovery moves performed?" The swordsman piped up again. Snake and Bixx looked back at him.

Bixx switched the ring off and placed it carefully on top of the terminal. "Each recovery move is unique to the person. Some have a kind of grappling device, some have limited flight capabilities but most of it's just enhanced jumping-"

"Flight?" Snake interrupted, "People can fly? Is that fair?"

"Limited flight," Bixx reiterated, sounding a little annoyed, "of course it wouldn't be fair to everyone else, that's why they're only granted a few seconds of flight time. Now, let me show you both of your recovery moves."

The alloy tapped a few more links on the screen. It displayed a 3D model of a device Snake recognized as an Army model hover-grade cipher camera. He grimaced.

"A Cipher?" He groaned. How was this supposed to help him? Besides, it was a cipher camera that photographed him on the Tanker, pronouncing him a terrorist to the whole world.

"I understand where you come from, a cipher is a light weight drone camera. But this cipher has been modeled to withstand double your weight. The cipher will fly to you when you fall, but you only have once chance to grab onto it. If you manage to take hold, the cipher will fly you back to the stage, no matter how far you've fallen." Bixx pulled up Ike's profile and explained that he'd been given the enhanced jump, or "double jump" ability as it was nick named. A fighter could jump twice their normal height, then, while in mid-air, jump again off of nothing. A fighter can jump as high as twenty feet.

A thought occurred to Snake. "Can others knock down the cipher? Or sabotage our recoveries?"

Bixx's voice sounded happy for once. "Good question. They can. Just as you can sabotage their recoveries as well."

Snake grunted his understanding. Ike said nothing, but nodded.

"Oh, and one last thing." Bixx added. "All fighters will also have another ability, a shield. You will be able to summon a shield that will protect you from any damage for a limited amount of time. You just cross your arms in front of you, like so," Bixx demonstrated the motion, crossing her arms in an 'x' in front of her chest, "and the shield will generate. Taken too many hits though, and the shield will break. You might want to be careful of that. Some Smashers have told us in the past that when their shields break, it caused them some mild disorientation." Bixx put an orb-hand on her hip, her posture told Snake she was frustrated again. "I'll be honest and tell you we're not quite sure why this happens. But we're confident we've solved the issue this year."

They're confident they've solved the issue? So they don't know really know if they did? What good was the shield if using it could eventually cause you harm?

#620 had rejoined them. He asked if either Snake or Ike had anymore questions for Bixx. Neither of them did so #620 ushered them to the other side of the room to a waiting red alloy. He introduced himself as Vard. This alloy was going to explain the point system, how it worked and match scheduling. The alloy sounded much friendlier than Bixx.

"So, in this tournament there are two Legs. Leg 1, which spans from the middle of month 2 to the middle of month 6. Leg 2 will span from the middle of month 8 to the end of month 11. Leg 1 will consist of five hundred and sixty matches total for the thirty-five competitors."

Snake and Ike looked at each other, and then back Vard. The red alloy laughed.

"Not to worry, I know it sounds like a lot, but at seven matches per day, five days a week, excluding weekends, you'd only have to fight one match per week." Vard said.

"We get weekends off?" Snake asked.

"Yes sir. We allot lots of down time in between matches, so the Smashers can fight at their very best." Vard went on, "So that's sixteen matches in total for Leg 1 per fighter. You have sixteen matches to accrue five hundred thousand points in order to advance to Leg 2."

Snake raised his eyebrows. Five hundred thousand? "What's Leg 2 look like?" Snake asked.

"Leg 2 will cut the Roster in half from thirty-five fighters to only seventeen. Each fighter will have fourteen matches to accrue another five hundred thousand points." Vard answered.

"But that's two less matches than Leg 1."

"Yes, but the amount of points you can earn will increase. You will have to score a minimum of one million points to advance. The fighters who do will make it to the Final 8. That takes place at the beginning of month 12, and will last about a week."

Snake scratched his scruffy chin. "Five hundred thousand per Leg is a lot. How would we go about scoring them?"

Vard crossed his arms. "Just about everything will grant you points. Every punch, every kick, every hit. Melee weapons will help you score more points, as will Assist Trophies." Vard motioned an orb-hand to the bay window, "There'll be a panel of secret judges that will be watching your every move and may grant you more than the standard points if you manage to do something flashy and outrageous. But the Smash Ball, ho ho! Now that will earn you the holy mother-load of points!"

"What's a...Smash Ball?" Ike asked.

"#620 will explain that to you." The alloy pointed to the short green alloy standing near. "Though, you'll have to help him see it. He can't see above the pedestal." Vard laughed.

"Ah ha ha ha ha. Very funny." #620 huffed. Snake could have sworn he heard a groan come out of Bixx from across the room.

Vard asked if he or Ike had any questions or needed any clarification on anything. Snake had taken glances at Ike every now and then during Vard's speech, he could see a subtle confusion on his face, but not once did Ike interrupt the alloy to ask for clarification. What a trooper. Snake and Ike both shook their heads.

Vard bid them both goodbye, and wished them luck in their future matches. #620 ushered them out of the Computer Room to their next destination.


The next stop was the main entrance to the Dome, the Lobby, a room that was as big as the Fighter's Bay but twice as grand, thought still as messy.

A group of alloys were hanging massive, fifty foot tapestries adorned with the tournament's logo from the tall ceilings. Other alloys were polishing up the floor with floor buffers. Velvet ropes in open boxes sat next to numerous ticket windows that were built into the walls. More alloys were wiping down the glass of the ticket windows and one was hand painting "TICKETS HERE" on the front. A green alloy was busy trying to string the velvet ropes to shiny silver poles. They ought to give that job to a taller alloy, Snake thought.

A monstrous jumbotron was on the wall between two towering arches that were the entryways into the stadium. Wires dangled beneath the screen in a tangled mess. Snake could hear the two alloys that were setting up the TV, atop two very tall ladders, arguing with each other.

"This is a brand new addition to this years event." #620 said, leading them between the ladders and archways to a glass display case that was nestled between. It was roped off with golden poles and silver ropes. Inside the case, on a velvet draped stand, was a clear ball. It looked to be made of glass and had to be the size of a beach ball. It had two intersecting lines pressed into it.

"This is called a Smash Ball. This orb will be filled with a tiny portion of Master Hands power, which will be released into the ring randomly during matches. The fighter who breaks the Smash Ball will be imbued with Master Hand's power for a short amount of time. This special move is called a 'Final Smash.' As in, the final thing you opponents will ever see." #620 chuckled at his own wittiness.

Snake's brow shot up, "With Master Hand's power?"

#620 waved his stumpy orb-hands in dismissal, "You won't be able to create worlds or anything like that. It'll just double your attack power, which means double the points, as I'm sure you remember #374 telling you. It also grants you temporary invulnerability."

Snake grunted his interest. The alloy hadn't actually explained that. But then again, Snake had a hard time listening. He didn't know the alloy's name was #374 either.

"No one and nothing can touch you. But watch out, all that surge of power may be too much. Try not to get yourself too out of hand or you might just blow yourself up." #620 finished.

Ike let out another weird grunt. Snake tilted his head to the side. Guess anything in this place can kill you.

"Well fellas, that concludes the tour of the Super Dome!" #620 said, clapping his orb-hands together somehow. "If you'll follow me, I'll take you back to the shuttle."

Back to the shuttle already? Snake knew #620 did not take them everywhere. "Is that really all there is to see? I saw the elevators had basement levels, up to level four. I saw stairwells that lead down too. How come you haven't shown us the basements?" Snake asked.

#620 made a tiny motion, Snake guessed it shrugged. "Sorry Mr. Snake, but I'm afraid those areas are off limits to anyone that's not Dome personnel."

"Can you at least tell us what's down there?"

"It's just the Dome's main engine. All the bells and whistles that make it fly. It's also were all the databanks are stored for the tournament's Grid systems, including the point system, cloaking function, etcetera. It's not really interesting. Just rooms and rooms full of computer banks." It said.

Snake nodded. So, that's were all the technical junk to this giant egg was huh? He'd have to store that info away. May be useful later.


The shuttle descended upon the fork in the road of the Complexes. The door hissed open and Snake and Ike exited into the winter air again. They turned around and watched the shuttle ascend back into the air, kicking up snow, and fly off.

They stood in silence for a moment before Ike asked, "You said your name was...Snake, right?" His gaze was still on the shuttle in the sky.

Snake grunted.

Ike turned to him. "I want to ask, have you been to this place before?"

He shook his head. "No, it's my first time here. You?"

"It's my first time too. All that stuff about points...and a Grid..." He scratched his head of curious blue hair, "It's...really confusing to me. But it must not be for you."

Snake chuckled. "It is actually. I barely understand it all myself."

Ike seemed to smirk a little. "That's comforting. I thought this was going to be a simple, friendly contest of strength. But it's a lot more complicated than that. Then again, when Master Hand first approached me, he was very strange himself. Not I, nor any of my friends, could contemplate that giant ship descending from the sky." He motioned to the shuttled off in the distance, "I guess I should have been more prepared."

Snake clapped a hand on Ike's shoulder. "Don't think about it too much, kid. Us mercenaries are trained to handle the unexpected. We know how to read a situation and go along with it. Here's how I figure: the more you hit your opponent, the more points you'll get. Strategy counts too. Also, follow the house rules. That's all you really need in the end."

Ike nodded. He held out his hand. "I look forward to facing you in the ring, Snake."

Snake shook his hand. "Me too, kid."


-2 Hours Earlier-

Samus had received an email that morning that said construction in the Hanger was finally completed and that competitor's ships were being reassigned new parking spots. She was to move her gunship at her earliest convince.

After finishing breakfast she'd had delivered from the cafeteria, she got dressed, pulled on her warmest coat, and headed out for the road leading to the Hanger.

Alloys ran shuttles up and down the streets in town, picking up passengers, and other alloys, and dropping them off wherever they needed to go. But there was no shuttle service out here on the dirt road. Not that Samus really minded, she guessed. A nice long walk was good for clearing the mind, especially with the breathtaking view of the snow capped mountains stretching around.

Samus thought back to the two machines she saw being constructed in the hanger. The smooth shape of one, the jagged edges of the other, and the white lettering she was unable to read behind the giant barriers. By now, she believed they were two machines, and that they were for use in the tournament. As stage hazards most likely. She'd reached a conclusion on their purposes, but now she was dying to see how they looked. More importantly what they did.

Who's stage did they belong to? How would they interfere exactly? She'd asked everyone about them, Marth, Link, the Starfox boys, the Mario brothers, Falcon, but none of them recognized such machines. They even began to tease that she was becoming obsessed with them. The princesses had also grown tired of her pressing them for speculation, though they were too polite to say anything. She wasn't obsessed, just curious.

Samus heard a noise behind her. She turned around to see a vehicle approaching. The alloy driver waved to her. Behind the driver, someone stood up and waved at her too.

"Hey Samus!"

The vehicle came to a stop right next to her. It was a small, four person cart, towing a flatbed trailer attached to the back. An orange colored alloy was driving. Samus had never seen these alloys outside of the cafeteria before. Usually they were the ones who delivered the food. They had sleek bodies, dramatically curved shins, and heads that resembled the shape of a competitive bicycler's helmet.

Sitting back down behind the driver was Fox McCloud. "You going down to the Hanger?" He asked.

"I am. Are you going to move your ship too, Fox?" Samus questioned back. He nodded.

"It's a long way there, can I offer you a lift?" The alloy suggested.

"Yes, thank you."

Samus went to sit next to Fox but the seat was already occupied. A small child wearing a sealed space suit with a massive glass dome helmet looked up at her. The boy had quite a bulbous nose.

"Oh? Who is this?" She asked.

Fox pointed a thumb to him, "One of the newcomers this year. We picked him up on the way. Say hello to Olimar."

Samus took the front seat next to the alloy and the cart resumed course. She turned around in her seat. "Nice to meet you Olimar. My name is Samus Aran." She offered her hand. Olimar shook three of her fingers. He mumbled something in a strange language. Samus couldn't understand anything he said, moreover, his voice was oddly deep. "Uhh...come again?"

Olimar withdrew his hand. He clutched at a square box attached to the front of his spacesuit and whacked it a couple of times. A green light came on and sounded with a pleasant chime. Olimar mumbled his strange words again and the box sounded. "Sorry, this darn translator Master Hand gave me is a bit iffy. It's nice to meet you, Samus Aran. I am Captain Olimar."

She was surprised. A Captain? So...he wasn't a little boy. Just a very small man. "Welcome to the tournament, Captain." She responded, "How long have you been here? I don't think I've ever seen you around."

"You can call me Olimar." He, or rather the translator, replied. "I arrived here a couple of months ago. I haven't seen many people myself, just the alloys. I stay inside my Dome mostly."

"Your Dome?"

"Yes. You see, I cannot breathe oxygen like you, or this fellow can." He motioned to Fox, "Oxygen is poisonous to me. And because all the organisms here breathe oxygen, it is what the air is mostly comprised of. Master Hand was kind enough to build a Biodome for me to live in while I'm here. It has the same atmosphere as my home planet."

Both Samus and Fox's eyebrows shot up ."You can't breathe oxygen?" They asked at the same time.

Olimar shook his head. "I cannot drink the water here or use it to shower. I can't eat the food from the cafeteria either. The alloys grow my food for me inside the Dome. And I can only use the water from the lake inside there too. Though they assure me it's filtered properly."

Fox put a hand on his chin in thought, "The plants grown out here would be full of oxygen. So is the water. Does that mean there is a special kind of alloy that live in the Dome with you? Ones that can stand the atmosphere?"

The orange alloy butted into their conversation. "No, not at all. We alloys don't have lungs, so we don't breathe any kind of air." Samus and Fox looked at the driver. He waved an orb-hand in apology. "Sorry, I wasn't listening in. You just had a question and I had an answer."

"I didn't know you guys didn't breathe." Samus said.

"We cannot smell or taste either." The alloy added.

Fox hadn't known this either apparently. His voice was just as surprised as hers. "Since when? Back when you guys were Polygons?"

The driver shrugged. "I assume so. I wasn't created back then. Master Hand brought me into being this year."

"Oh." Samus began to feel a little bad for the alloy.

"I'm not sure I want to taste though. If you ask me, organic food looks...gross." The alloy's tone became slightly bewildered, "I don't mean to insult anyone but...how does one consume milk from the teats of a cow? Or the spit of a bee?"

Samus laughed. She no longer felt bad for the alloy, since he didn't appear to lament not having any senses. "We just don't think about it, I guess." She turned back to Olimar. "Where are you from Olimar?"

"I come from the planet Hocotate." He replied.

"Ahh, I thought you were Hocotatian!" Fox piped.

Samus looked at the anthromorph. "I've never seen or heard of a Hocotatian before."

"Hocotate is a dwarf planet in a pretty deserted system," He explained. "So the Hocotatians go out exploring the cosmos. Kinda like the way the Mr. Saturns do. You ever heard of pikpik carrots?"

She shook her head.

"Aw, that's a shame. Pikpik carrots are delicious. They're only grown on Hocotate. You oughta try 'em sometime." Fox said.

"Wait, Fox if you've eaten carrots from Hocotate, wouldn't the carrots contain that planet's atmospheric molecules? And if Olimar can't breath oxygen, wouldn't his atmosphere not be good for us either?" She questioned.

"Well...pikpik carrots are kinda small. Either the molecules clear out in environments full of oxygen, or maybe the body filters them out." He shrugged. "I've never been affected by them. I'm not a scientist."

Samus looked at the alloy for answer. He shrugged too.

"I wouldn't know either. I'm not a farmer." He said.

"Hocotate is quite famous for our pikpik carrots. They're our number one export, and my favorite food." Olimar said, "Though we Hocotatians are not to be confused with the Planet Koppai and the Koppaites. We are very different."

Samus smiled. "I'll keep that in mind. Is Koppai a dwarf planet too?"

"I think Koppai might be a neighboring planet." Fox speculated.

The three chatted the rest of the way to the Hanger, or rather the Garages, because the Hanger was located in the basement levels. The alloy drove the cart all the way inside the Garage to the elevators in the back.

"Thank you for the ride," Samus said, disembarking.

"Anytime. You guys take care now." The orange alloy waved goodbye. He turned the cart around and drove away. Samus saw the alloy didn't stop to load anything on the trailer, but kept on driving towards the outside. Did that mean the alloy went out of his way, stop what he was doing, to drive them all the way out here?

The alloys were so nice.

The massive elevator groaned as it descended to the Hanger below. Samus expected to see the giant metal and tarp barriers she'd seen months ago when the gated doors rattled open, but they were gone now. All that was left was monstrous empty space, a few ships parked in their new spots.

A couple of alloys stood next to a newly installed terminal to the side of the elevator. The alloys greeted them, and, after asking if they'd come to move their ships, gave the three their new assigned parking spot numbers.

Samus lingered her sight on the whole right side of the Hanger as she followed Fox and Olimar. Fox splintered off to his blue and white colored Arwing, which Falco's Skyclaw was still parked next to. No doubt Falco would not move his ship for days, if at all.

Olimar trotted off too. Turns out his ship was the broken down and rusted old rocket she'd seen when she'd arrived. That bucket couldn't last longer than a few more trips. She thought Olimar should use some of his tournament winnings to buy another. She also found it strange that Olimar appeared to start arguing with his ship.

Of course she couldn't miss the enormous battleship Halberd that was still squished up against the wall. That probably had to be moved last.

Samus parked her gunship in it's new spot without incident, which was where the walled off section had previously been. She saw Fox walking up to her ship through the huge bay window, his Arwing parked nearby in it's new spot too. It took her a few minutes to power down the ship's systems. She descended back down into the hanger.

"So, what do you think of the little guy?" Fox asked quietly when she approached him, "Me personally, I think he's harmless."

Samus looked around for any alloys nearby before replying. "I have to agree with you. He's pretty vulnerable out here in the oxygen-rich air. Even the alloy confirmed there was a Dome he lives in. I don't mean to judge a book by it's cover, but he seems too small to cause any trouble."

"A Hocotatian..." Fox scratched his chin in thought, "They're such an obscure race. Though, I thought they were supposed to be like, two or three inches in height or something."

"Did you read the email this morning that said the last competitor arrived yesterday?" Samus asked.

Fox nodded. "I wonder if anyone's met them yet. I haven't."

"Neither have I. The Encyclopedia hasn't been updated with their info yet either. Probably won't be for another couple of days. They'e so slow with that thing." She crossed her arms. "So we don't even have a name yet."

Fox stuffed in his hands in his jacket pockets. "I just hope they're not trouble."

"I hope it's another woman." Samus said. Fox looked at her, confused. She chuckled. "What? There's only four girls here! As far as I know there have been no new women competitors invited. Just the me, the princesses, and Nana. Even she and her brother returned. There's too many men here."

"Boyfriend."

"Huh?"

"That's not Nana's brother, that's her boyfriend." Fox corrected.

Samus' jaw dropped a little. "You're kidding, you mean...the whole time they were-"

"Yep. You seriously thought that was her brother the whole time? Also you forgot Jigglypuff. She's a female too." He finished.

Samus frowned. She did forget about about Jigglypuff.

"In any case, I say we should have another meeting, maybe two days from now. Give everyone a chance to find and greet the newbie." Fox suggested. "I still haven't seen the other guy that arrived a couple weeks ago either. Ike Greil. There's no picture of him in the Encyclopedia yet. But I'm sure by now everyone knows to be on the look out."

Samus nodded in agreement. "Two days sounds good. I'll spread the word."


There was no makeshift taxi to drive them back to the Complexes, and Samus really did not want to bother any of the alloys working in the Garage, so she, Fox and Olimar walked the dirt path back to the apartments. Fox shivered and complained about the cold and wind. Samus quipped that he was just as whiny as Falco. Fox shut right up.

They conversed more with the Hocotation, asking about his life back home. The spaceman revealed that he was a treasure hunter for a living. He had a wife, two children and a dog named Bulbie. He'd joined the tournament for a chance to win prize money to pay for a new starship, and his wife's apparent shopping addiction. Samus was glad he was aware of his desperate need of a new ship.

Olimar talked about his work as an employee of a company called Hocotate Freight. He used to deliver cargo across star systems until an incident that changed his life. Olimar was returning home from a long distance delivery when his ship was hit by a rouge meteor, and he crashed landed onto an unmapped planet. There he discovered and befriended a species of plant life he called Pikmin. With their help, he was able to gather up the lost parts of his ship and return home.

"That's amazing. It must have been quite an ordeal for you." Fox said.

Olimar's translator box chimed. "Oh it was. Especially since that planet's atmosphere was mostly oxygen too."

"What is a pikmin?" Samus asked. She remembered there was a mention about them in the house rules.

Olimar went on to explain them in loving detail. Pikmin were a species of bi-pedal plants, possessing limited intelligence. They were herd creatures who stuck together for safety, as they were quite weak on their own and easily preyed upon, but when they worked together, pikmin could accomplish incredible feats.

He described six different type of Pikmin: Red pikmin that were fireproof. Yellow pikmin which could conduct electricity. Blue pikmin which were aquatic. Purple pikmin which weighed as much as, and had the strength of ten pikmin combined. And finally white pikmin, half the size of the others and capable of spewing acid.

"Sounds like you know everything there is to know about them." Samus observed.

"Of course, I discovered them! I am Hocotate's leading authority on pikmin. No one has studied or worked with them as closely as I have." Olimar boasted, then his disposition became more somber. "I owe everything to the pikmin. I survived and saw my family again because of them."

Samus smiled. He truly did love those creatures.

"What go you into treasure hunting?" Fox asked.

Olimar told another story about how he had taken an artifact from the planet he'd crashed on as a souvenir to remember his experience. It was discovered that the souvenir was quite valuable, so his boss made him go back to the planet for more.

Fox angrily wiped his nose. "Back to the planet you nearly died on? Your boss has some nerve! But I've got another question, where is your Biodome located?"

Olimar pointed up the trail to the direction of town. "It's pretty far from here. Past the Gardens." He said. Samus couldn't recall seeing any kind of structure out by the Gardens. She'd been there plenty of times while jogging.

Fox clapped his hands together. "So that's what that is."

"What is?" She asked.

"There's a glass dome you can see the very top of from the guy's side of the mountain. It's way past the Gardens, out in the fields. I thought it as some kind of huge greenhouse." Fox said. "You wouldn't have been able to see it from your apartment."

"Are you talking about that huge, pyramid shaped building?" She'd seen a glass building pasts the gardens, but it wasn't a dome.

"That is the Nursery." Olimar replied, "The alloys grow pikmin there. When I arrived, Master Hand asked me to help them cultivate the pikmin properly."

"They grow pikmin here? What for?" Fox asked.

"To help me compete." was Olimar's simple answer. Samus and Fox looked at him in disbelief. His translator chimed. "I said before, when pikmin use teamwork, they can accomplish incredible feats."

Their conversation was interrupted by the muffled sound of engines. Further up the trail, a white transport shuttle rose into the sky and flew off.

"I wonder who that's picking up?" Fox mused.

"Or dropping off." Samus added.

They jogged the rest of the way up the trail to see, leaving Olimar behind, his legs too short to keep up. The fork in the road was empty, but someone was walking up the street towards the men's apartments, their stark, red colored cape fluttered in the breeze, snowflakes catching on their head of blue hair.

"Oh, it's just Marth." Fox said.

"Whose that?" Samus nodded towards a person walking down the other road into Town.

"Looks like Falcon." Fox replied.

"No...Falcon has a blue jacket."

"Maybe he's wearing another one."

Samus put a hand to her chin. "But his hair...it's too light..." The Captain's hair was jet black, this person's was brown. "Plus, didn't you see the Falcon Flyer in the Hanger? He'd already moved it. I didn't see him going back up the trail ahead of us either. He would have stopped to say hi."

"Maybe he's just going into town then?" Fox shrugged.

Samus kept staring at the person. Something in her gut told her that that wasn't Falcon. Their walk was different. She didn't recognize the Captain's usual stomping gait.

Could that be the newbie?

"I'm gonna check it out anyway." She said to Fox, "If it is Falcon, I've got to tell him about the-" She cut herself off, looking down at Olimar, who had caught up to them. "About that...uh, shop...opening in the port town...in two days. He'd really like that."

"Oh...yeah!" Fox coughed, acknowledging her near slip up. "Don't forget about that."

Fox bid a goodbye to Olimar, telling the spaceman it was nice to meet him, and that he looked forward to facing him in the ring. Olimar shook Fox's fingers, saying he looked forward to becoming friends. Samus wished they'd hurry up because the stranger was getting further and further away. Fox slunk up the hill back to his apartment, telling Samus he was gonna catch up to Marth. She knew he meant he'd tell the man about the meeting.

Olimar chatted about how the walk back to his Dome was pretty far, and that he'd wish he could take a transport shuttle back. Then he mused about maybe staying in town to see all the shops. Samus was half listening. The stranger had reached the end of the road and turned down the sidewalk.

Samus informed the spaceman that she needed to catch up with her friend down the road. She quickly mentioned to him that there were designated bus stops in town were he could take Shuttles. She waved a hurried goodbye and left him behind. She felt bad about the curt goodbye but she had a job to do.

She jogged down the road, turning down the same sidewalk that stranger had. But she saw the man get onto a transport shuttle, loaded with other alloys, and was driving away.

Damn! She'd lost him. Where was he going?

 

Chapter Text

Because of the morning tour, and his super comfy bed, Snake didn't have time to eat any breakfast. So, starving, he headed to the cafeteria for lunch. As he walked through the doors of the lunchroom, he saw an alloy at the check out counter, placing two styrofoam containers into a plastic bag and tying it up. It was one of those orange colored alloys with the sleek bodies and curved heads.

The orange alloy was handed a slip of paper by the alloy cashier, and he exited the cafeteria, plastic bags in his glowy-hands. The first night Snake had arrived on the island, he'd ordered food by delivery from the cafeteria too, and it was an orange alloy that had delivered it. And now it was off to deliver someone else's food. Snake wondered if that was the same one.

The alloy cashier who rang up his food purchase was colored pink, she was short and stocky compared to the others, and her head had points on both sides. Snake thought it resembled a short bob haircut.

So the blue alloys had ponytails and the purple ones had buns. Why did the females seem to have "hair?" He pondered to himself.

There was no one else in the cafeteria, so he had the pick of the tables. He sat by himself on the lower deck. The light may have been a little blinding where he was at, but the landscape through the bay window was worth it. It had started to snow again. The naked trees and snow covered roofs of the buildings in town brought back good memories.

Lunch was peaceful and quiet, unlike yesterday, when those three children, after dragging him all the way to the building, sat at his table and ate with him. The kids bombarded him with all kinds of questions - Where did he come from? How strong was he? Was Snake his real name? How old was he? And what was his favorite lizard? Like he knew the answer to that question. He just told them his favorite lizard was Godzilla, they wouldn't know what that was anyway, and they had accepted his answer.

Actually, only Ness and Link were the talkative ones, Lucas was quiet and hardly spoke the whole time. He listened to the conversation mostly. The boys asked him all kinds of questions too. Snake found out Lucas came from a small village called Tazmilly, where he lived with his father. Ness also asked Lucas about his PSI powers. Apparently, the child only recently developed them, after saving his entire island from near doom. The boys asked what had happened, but Lucas didn't say much, and when Ness asked about Lucas' mother and any other siblings, the kid completely clammed up. Snake could see the child was uncomfortable so he'd changed the topic and asked about the toy snake Bowser had tried to take from him. Lucas said the toy was called Rope Snake and it originally belong to a friend of his named Duster, who gave it to him to use in the tournament. Rope Snake had apparently helped his friend out of a lot of jams. Snake couldn't really imagine how. This Duster guy probably gave it to him to give the kid confidence. At least that'd what he would do.

Then the kids started to laugh about how his name was also Snake and that he had helped Lucas out of his jam. It was annoying, but it made the boy smile, which made him feel good.

As he ate his food, Snake thought about Ness and Lucas. That guy Falcon also said Ness had psychic powers. Snake at first wondered if that meant Ness could read people's minds, or could move things telekenetically, but the way the boys had spoken about their "PSI" powers, as they called them, it seemed more elemental and healing-like. Kind of similar to those strange animals on those Beauty Contest shows.

Falcon also said that Ness was a competitor, and that he'd fought the child before. In fact, they were both third year veterans. Snake still found this hard to believe. Either Ness was telling the truth or Falcon was just messing with him. He didn't know the man too well, maybe it was tradition to mess with the newbies.

The only way to truly find out was to wait for the tournament to start. He'd see what the truth is then. Either way Snake had experience fighting psychics - not that he was going to fight the child anyway...

Gods and psychics. And metallic beings. What else was he gonna find on this strange island?

Snake remembered that he had promised to call Otacon back. He dialed the Codec while digging into the rest of his food. The engineer picked up after three rings.

"Hey Snake, how did your appointment go?"

In between mouths full of food, Snake detailed his trip to the Super Dome. He described all of the rooms he'd saw - the Men's Locker Room, the Fighter's Bay, the upstairs Computer Room, and the ultra fancy Lobby. He also described the contraptions the alloys had built, such as the Pallet Pod and the curious Catcher ring. He repeated the alloy Bixx's explanation of the multiple Grids and what kind of weapons he would be able to use in ring, along with the shield and recovery abilities. He also relayed all the information that Vard had explained about the match schedule and the Points system. To the best of his ability. Otacon reprimanded him for not even attempting to call him so that he could listen in on the explanation too. Snake growled back that he remembered enough, to which Otacon retorted that he didn't understand anything Snake was saying with his mouth full, and accused him of having no manners.

"Listen, there's something else. I think I was being followed." Snake said.

"Followed? By who?"

"Don't know. I didn't see any one around."

"You don't think it was that guy from yesterday do you? The chicken king?"

Snake laughed. "I don't think so. I could tell if it was him from a mile away just by his stench. I just had a feeling, like someone was watching me. There were alloys all over the street, but I doubt it was any of them."

"I've never known you to ignore your gut instincts. Even with the House Rules in place, that monster still tried to attack you. Maybe he's got a friend."

"Maybe."

Snake then spent the next half hour explaining the map of the grounds to Otacon in detail, still through mouth fulls of food, much to the engineer's annoyance.


 

The alloys were spreading more rock salt on the sidewalks and others were beating snow off the tree branches, to prevent them from drooping and breaking. A snow plow drove by, it's plow raised, finished with it's job of clearing the streets. It was the first non-white colored vehicle Snake had seen. It was colored yellow.

There was a lot of activity going in the shops along the sidewalks. An alloy was painting a store logo and store hours on the front display window from the inside, while in another shop, an alloy was vacuuming the carpet and a second was pushing around furniture. A third alloy on top of a ladder was hammering in the last letter of a metal sign into the top of a brick building. The sign read "VETERINARIAN."

Snake stopped to watch. He remembered what that blue female alloy had said on the deep space transport shuttle about how Master Hand some times took livestock from competitor's planets to bring here. So, some alloys were trained in animal care? Good to know they had someone to look after them in their new home.

Snake recalled the animal clinic he used to frequent back in his days as a musher. The head veterinarian there was an official vet for the Iditarod race and a few other dog sled races in the area. He was real passionate about sled dogs, that's why he liked the guy so much. Snake had taken all of his dogs there to get their shots and to fix a few, whenever he had the money in-between his other expenses. The head vet had been the one who diagnosed Chief's oncoming arthritis. He'd told Snake this eventually happened to all sled dogs but shared in his sadness that her days as a Lead dog were coming to an end.

He'd taken Chief to that clinic the first time he'd met her too, when she came to him a bloody mess. He wondered how she was doing now. When he spoke to Otacon earlier, she was snoozing on his couch, getting her fur all over it. Otacon grumbled about it, noting that he had to take the couch cushions outside and beat the fur out of them because it could get into his computer banks and other gadgets. Chief also began to feverishly chew on her butt, probably out of anxiety. He knew she missed him. He missed her too.

The hairs on his neck stood. An old familiar feeling, an internal alert, that he had eyes on him. Snake did not attempt to look around for whoever was watching him. Instead, he pick up his stroll down the sidewalk.

Snake passed by two alloys trying their hardest to reach a top branch of a tree that was still covered with snow. He pretended to look at them and glanced over his shoulder. He didn't see anyone. The crunching footsteps of the alloys made listening for any footsteps useless too. Maybe he should turn into a shop to see if they followed him. But where should he go? Every shop he passed was either closed or was still being set up.

Then he saw it, the brightly colored arches of the General Store. They were almost obnoxious compared to the dull colored buildings next to it. Probably so it could be seen from a distance, Snake surmised. He knew this building was open. Master Hand said so in their meeting yesterday.

The glass doors slid open and a little jingle sounded his entrance. Snake may be able to corner whoever was following him in here, and he might as well find out if they were really selling his treasured smokes too. Two birds with one stone, he thought.

"Welcome." Said a blue alloy from behind the check out counter. Snake nodded in her direction and she went back to work. It seems the alloy was going to stock the wall shelves behind the check-out desk - she had a box in her arms as he'd walked in.

This place was big, like one of those deluxe trucker gas stations. Cold freezers lined the walls in the back, and a few isles were set to the right. The isles would provide excellent cover to observe his stalker from a distance. And the door chimed when someone entered. That would be extremely helpful.

He'd went to the back isle first, idly looking over the goods, so the stalker couldn't see him from the front. The wall coolers held energy drinks, liquid coffee flavorings and gallons of milk. The shelves directly across from them held breakfast items such as boxes of cereal, packages of cookies and toasted pastries. Snake looked up, the bell had not gone off yet. Was the stalker no longer following him? He moved to the next isle.

This one had small bags of sugar, cans of baking powder, a small rack of spices, sheets of wax paper and cupcake pans...Wait, were these baking supplies? Who'd have the time or need to bake stuff here? The shelves across held dry foods like pasta, spaghetti, rice and noodles. There were also canned goods, like vegetables and meats. You really could cook your own meals if you wanted to.

The door bell jingled. There was the stalker.

Snake bent down slightly, listening. "Welcome." The blue alloy said again. The stalker greeted them back, their voice was light.

A female.

Snake could hear the footsteps on the ground. Sounded like they were wearing boots. The footsteps were getting closer and he slipped into another isle as they passed by. The stalker thumped to the back of the store.

He was in the hygiene section now. There were soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, toothbrushes, cotton swabs and all the like. He tried to peek through the holes in between the beams of the shelves, so he could see the stalker through the small openings when they came into the next isle.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood up again. Snake looked to his left to see the alloy cashier staring at him. She pretended to go back to work. It was then Snake realized that he was standing right in front of the feminine hygiene products. He must have looked like a creep peering through the sanitary napkins. He growled slightly and slipped into the next isle. It wasn't what she thought! He was being followed!

Snake realized if he was going to confront his stalker then the blue alloy would witness the whole thing and may get the wrong idea. After all, they were created by Master Hand, it wouldn't be too odd to assume they reported any incidents to him. Snake could be slapped with a deduction in points for a confrontation with another competitor before the tournament even started.

He had to think of a new plan. He could try to lure the person out of the store to a less crowded place. They sounded friendly with the cashier, maybe they wouldn't want to cause a scene for them either.

He continued to pretend to examine the goods on the shelves. The light footsteps got closer. Snake peeked around and saw the stalker disappear into isle he was just in. He saw blonde hair and judging by the height of the shelves they were about 5'5". Was it another human?

He looked at the snacks and candies on the shelves in front of him. The shelves were filled top to bottom with all kinds of sugary sweets. Chocolates, gummies and marshmallows. There was even a mini freezer with single ice creams in it. This isle was the thing of a child's dream.

If he was going to leave the store, he needed to do it now. Snake looked back to the alloy, to see if she was still watching him when his eyes caught something and he got an idea.

Snake grabbed a box of chocolate wafers to purchase. Only a few GCs. He wasn't too crazy about sweets, but he'd always liked those.

He walked to the counter. The hairs on his neck tingled. The stalker was watching him. What would she do? Would she approach him? Or hang back?

When he got to the counter, Snake saw the boxes the cashier was stocking on the shelves behind the register were boxes of cigarettes. Lots of them. Jackpot!

Snake instructed her to fetch him a couple boxes. While the alloy was busy, Snake looked up to the security camera in the corner of the ceiling, disguised as a mirror, just like the ones back home. The cashier could watch customers in the isles with that mirror, as well as help him see the blonde woman watching him from the back of the second isle. She had long hair and wore a green jacket. She looked human. But he couldn't make out anymore detail than that.

The cashier came back with two boxes and scanned his chocolate wafers too. Snake glanced up at the mirror again. The woman had gotten closer, she stood in front of the laundry detergent and dish soap, her body faced the isle but Snake could tell her gaze was on him.

He swiped his card, took his bag of purchases, thanked the cashier and left. Intentionally not looking back. He gave the woman a chance to see where he was headed. From what he recalled of the map, there was a sidewalk that lead off to a place called the Courtyard which was part of the massive Gardens. He didn't know if it was secluded, or even deserted, but he'd take his chances. If he could get the stalker to follow him there.

In the mean time he dialed Otacon again.

"What's up, Snake?" His friend asked.

"I was right, someone is following me." He replied.

His friend's voice became concerned. "Did you see who?"

"It's a woman. She's been tailing me ever since I left the cafeteria."

"That was probably who was watching you before."

"Otacon, get on that database and look up a competitor for me."

"You got her description? Shouldn't be too much of a problem to find her, since there are only five females on the Roster. What did she look like?" Otacon asked.

Only five? "Long blonde hair. About five, five. That's all I could see."

Otacon went silent, but Snake could hear a mouse clicking. "The only blonde haired woman I've found is a Princess Peach."

"Princess?"

"Says here she's the ruler of a place called Mushroom Kingdom. Her favorite color is apparently pink."

"That a detail I need to know?" Snake asked. "What about the others?"

More mouse clicking. "Another female on the roster is another Princess, named Zelda, but she has long brown hair and pointy ears, like an elf. Did you see her ears?" When Snake grunted no, he continued, "There's another girl named Nana but she appears to be a child."

Another child? "And the others?" Snake prompted.

"Let's see, the others are...gah! What is that?"

"What?"

"I-it says it's female, but...this isn't human at all! It's some kind of pink...thing."

Snake was fast approaching the Courtyard, he didn't have time for this. "If it's not human it's not what I'm looking for. What about the last one?" He growled.

"Alright, alright. The last entry is a woman named Samus Aran, but I'm not so sure it's her either. Unless she was a robot."

"A robot?"

"Yeah, the picture here is of a robot...or...it could be an android, maybe. Red helmet, big round shoulder plates. Colored orange and red."

Definitely not what he saw. "Can robots have genders?" Snake pondered.

Otacon made a noise to indicate shrugging. "Can a person be flat?"

"Huh?"

The engineer laughed. "You really 'oughta check out this Encyclopedia yourself sometime."

"That's what I have you for." Snake replied. So the woman he saw was that Princess Peach person. "Thanks for looking. I'm about to reach the place were I'm gonna confront her now. I'll let you know how it goes."

"Be careful Snake." Otacon said before he signed off.


 

Snake had a perfect view of the sidewalk from his hiding spot, where he stood behind a tall, snow-covered hedge. It was easy to slip away but a little harder to not leave noticeable footprints in the snow. But that was a trick he'd learned in his time spent with the Green Berets. The Courtyard's hedges made for perfect cover. Now he waited.

Crunch...crunch...crunch.

The woman appeared. She was walking cautiously, looking down at the sidewalk, probably following his footprints. She stopped right where his tracks abruptly ended. The woman looked around. He still wasn't able to see her face.

"What the...? Where the hell did he go?" He heard her mumble to herself.

Snake was already on the move. He crept up slowly behind her, carefully and quietly stepping on the rocksalt. The woman muttered more to herself, placing her hands on her hips in frustration. He got right behind her and rose up to his full height.

"Why are you following me?"

BAM!

The instant the words had left his mouth, the woman turned around and cracked him in the jaw. She moved so fast he didn't have time to even contemplate dodging. He crashed to the ground. He felt like he was just smashed in the face with a brick. "What the hell!" He cried out.

The woman gasped in surprise, covering her mouth with a hand. "W-What are you doing sneaking up behind me?!" She stammered out.

Snake had to shake the stars out of his vision. He was able to see the stalker now. A few strands of blonde hair strayed from her side swept bangs and hung over her almond shaped eyes. She had a slim, small frame and a distinct beauty mark on the side of her chin. She was gorgeous. Drop-dead gorgeous. Snake suddenly couldn't feel the pain in his jaw anymore.

"Well?" The woman angrily prompted.

Snake came back to his senses, and growled back at her."Because you were following me, that's why!"

A look flashed across her blue-green eyes. "What? What are you talking about? I wasn't following you." She replied with fake confusion.

Snake got to his feet and loomed over her. "Don't try to deny it. You've been following me ever since I was in town. You followed me into the General Store and watched me from the isles. Why?"

The woman didn't answer. She only took a step back. Was she going to run?

"You even came out here to the Courtyard, right where I led you. I heard your mumbling. Out with it." He finished.

The woman flexed her fingers and looked away for a moment. Her expression went from fake angry to nervous, then resigned. Seems she knew her jig was up. "Alright...I'll admit...I was following you. But it's not what you think. I was...I was trying to find a way to introduce myself." She confessed.

To introduce herself? Snake scoffed. "That's the lamest excuse I've ever heard. Tell me the truth. Did that big ugly lizard send you to spy on me?"

The woman's expression changed to confusion again. "Big ugly lizard?"

"You can tell your boss Bowser if he wants revenge to come face me like a man, not send one of his lackeys after me, Princess." Snake growled, pointing a finger to her.

"Bowser? ...Princess? Wait, I'm not-I'm not working for that overgrown turtle!" She retorted.

"No?"

"No! Are you kidding? Bowser is a moronic oaf who would challenge a rock to a fight if he thought it insulted him! I'm not associated with him at all!"

"Then why the hell are you following me, Princess?" Snake asked again.

"Why do you keep calling me Princess?" She shot back.

"You're not Princess Peach?"

"No!"

Had Otacon given him wrong information? He's said there was only one blonde woman on the Roster. Who the hell was this then? "Then who the hell are you? What do you want with me?" He growled.

"You're a new invitee this year, I...I wasn't sure how to approach you. It's embarrassing to admit it OK, but...I'm not very good at meeting new people." She replied, holding up her hands defensively.

Snake groaned in annoyance and walked away from the woman. He brushed snow off a nearby wooden bench and sat. He rubbed his aching jaw. "...You could have just said hello. Like a normal person." He grumbled. "I think you might've cracked some of my teeth."

The woman cautiously approached him. "You scared the hell out of me. It was a reaction. I'm...I'm sorry about that." She apologized. She tugged at her jacket sleeves. "Look, uh, we got off on the wrong foot here. My name is Samus. Samus Aran."

She held out a hand to him. Snake looked at it, then up at her. Samus Aran? Didn't Otacon say Samus Aran was an orange colored android? This woman was clearly human. Then again, Otacon said Princess Peach was the only blonde female on the Roster. Was it possible he screwed up information? He shook her hand. "Solid Snake." He replied.

The high collared green jacket she wore looked vaguely military with it's dull metal fasteners. His gaze went back to the beauty mark just below her lips.

"It's nice to meet you. I'm sorry about punching you, really. I swear that's not how I greet people." She smiled. It was a small smile, just a light lifting of the corners of her mouth, but it sent a rush of adrenaline through him. Her smile made her even more gorgeous. He wanted to stare at her forever.

He felt forgiving then. He shrugged. "Not like I haven't been punched in the face before. I'll be fine." He didn't want to show how much that punch really hurt. Every time he spoke his jaw ached. "You got one hell of a mean swing, lady. You used to punch trees? Or...ten inch steel?"

The woman named Samus didn't respond right away. She dusted the rest of the snow off the bench and sat next to him. "Something like that. So, uh, about Bowser. Why would he be coming after you?"

Snake sat back on the bench and rubbed his jaw."I taught him a lesson yesterday. That's all."

She raised her dark colored eyebrows at him. "Taught him a lesson? ...Did you fight him? You know that's against House Rules, right?"

"Didn't seem to matter to him. Besides," Snake pointed a finger to her, "He came after me first. I defended myself. I wasn't just gonna stand by and watch him bully those kids."

A concerned look came over her face. "Kids? Are you talking about Ness and little Link? What did he do to them?"

"You know those two? He was just being a nuisance, wouldn't leave one of the other children alone. So I stepped in." Snake noticed she didn't say Lucas' name. Did she not know him?

Her pretty face curled into a growl. "That coward. Typical of him."

"Ness said he makes a habit of picking fights with people."

The woman crossed her arms and huffed. "All too often. Like I said, he'd pick a fight with a rock if he could. What did you do to him?"

"That big nose of his is pretty soft and squishy, it might be sore for a while." He replied. Snake kept massaging his jaw. Man...that punch really hurt. He was probably going to get a huge bruise. He should go back to the General Store later and pick up an icepack and a few aspirin.

"You sure you gonna be okay?" She asked.

He nodded. Snake suddenly remembered he had just the thing to dull the pain. He reached into an inside pocket in his trench coat and pulled out his pack of cigarettes. Samus wrinkled her nose in disapproval.

"Are you sure you should smoke that?"

He fished out a cigarette and waved it at her. "Best painkiller there is." She looked away sheepishly. He put the cigarette in his mouth and reached back into his pocket for his zippo. "So, you a veteran, Ms. Aran?" He asked.

"Three years." She replied.

"Three years?" He repeated. Exactly the same as that Falcon guy. She probably knew him too. "You must have a lot of friends here."

"I do."

"Know a man named Falcon?"

"Douglas? Yes I know him. He's a friend of mine. Do you know him?"

"No. Just met him today."

"Oh. I see." For some reason she looked disappointed. "Well, I'm sure you'll make some new friends yourself here. Where are you from, Mr. Snake?" She asked.

"You can just call me Snake." He corrected, reaching into another pocket. He zippo wasn't in the same pocket as his cigarettes, like it always was. "I came from the planet Earth and before you ask no I don't know what stellar sector that's in."

"You're from Earth too?" She blurted out.

He stopped his search and looked at her. "Huh?"

"I've never met anyone else here from Earth." She scoot closer to him, another smile on her pretty face, "Where are you from?"

Another person from Earth? Didn't Master Hand tell him he was the strongest warrior on the planet, or something like that? Had the glove lied to him? Snake felt an instant kindred to the woman nonetheless. He took the cigarette out of his mouth and sat up straight. "Well, I'm currently living in-" He cut himself off. Wait, if she was from Earth, then did she know about him? His face was plastered all over the world as a wanted terrorist. She didn't have a distinct accent either, she spoke just like him so she was probably American. He'd told her his code name earlier too.

"Living in...?" She prompted.

Well, now that he thought about it, even if she knew what could she do? They were a million light years away from Earth, in a whole different place. That, and his code name didn't seem to trigger any recognition from her. Maybe she didn't know who he was. "...Currently I'm living in Alaska." He lied. "What about you? Where are you from?"

"I live outside of the Daiban capital." She answered.

"Daiban?"

"I've never heard of Alaska, where is that at?" She questioned.

"Never heard of Alaska?" His tone was incredulous. "It's...apart of the United States."

She looked confused. "United States?"

"You don't...know what that is?" He asked. She shook her head. OK, so she wasn't American, but what kind of person from Earth has never heard of the United States? "I've never head of Daiban, where is that located?"

"What? It's the Federation Capital."

"Federation?"

"The Galactic Federation. I thought you said you were from Earth?"

"I am."

"Hold on...What year are you from?"

"2010. You?"

"2080 E.C."

"E.C...?"

"I don't think we're from the same Earth."

"There's...another Earth?"

The woman laughed lightly. "What Galaxy is your Earth located in?"

"The Milkyway."

She shook her head. "Definitely not the same Earth."

There was another Earth? Was she from an alternate reality? Or maybe a different timeline? Or maybe she was from another Earth-like planet that just...happened to be named Earth too. All those science fiction movies he used to watch in his youth may not have been science fiction after all. Master Hand could cross time and space, he proved that when he hurled him across both. Who knows where exactly this woman came from. He didn't know what E.C. stood for either.

Samus laughed lightly again. "Are you okay? You look like your gears are really turning."

"I'm...just not familiar with the whole...space/time...alternate dimensions...sort of thing." He said awkwardly.

"It can get a bit confusing." The woman sighed, "And here I thought Master Hand finally invited someone from my home."

Snake's kindred to the woman disappeared too.

"Are you Military?" She asked suddenly. "I know a code name when I hear one."

Guess he didn't have to worry about being found out. "Not anymore." He replied.

"What do you do now?"

"Currently I'm apart of an NGO. Our mission is to rid the Earth, uh, my Earth, of a certain type of WMD."

"An NGO?" She piqued a dark colored eyebrow. "You're an...Eco-Warrior?"

Snake stuck the cigarette back into his mouth and reached into his pockets again, continuing his search for his lighter which he was still not finding. "What about you? What's your trade?" He asked.

"Bounty hunter." She replied.

He stopped searching his pockets yet again and looked at the woman. "Bounty hunter? You?"

She crossed her arms. "That so odd?"

"Everything is odd around here. Supposed that's why we're all here, right? The best of the best." He grinned at her. "Bit of dangerous work for a pretty girl like yourself."

Her expression went from slightly smug to slightly annoyed. "I can handle myself. Which you'll find out in the ring." She taunted.

Another rush of adrenaline. "That a promise? I won't hold back because you're a woman, you know. No matter how cute you are."

The woman dangerously narrowed her eyes at him. "And I won't hold back because you're a man. I already know how easily you go down."

Was she trash talking him? Snake smirked widely, which hurt. He grunted in pain and put a hand to his jaw again. He was beginning to like this woman.

"Well, it was nice chatting with you Mr. Eco-Warrior. But I've got places to be." Samus stood up from the bench and dusted off her pants. "I suspect the next time we'll see each other is as opponents." She started to walk away.

"Why were you really following me?" He asked after her.

Samus stopped. She looked down at the ground for a second before looking back at him. "I already told you, I was just trying to say hello."

Snake narrowed his eyes at her. He didn't know anything about this woman, or if her social skills really were as bad as she'd said, but he got the feeling she was hiding something.

Snake gave her another sly grin. "Never knew I could make a pretty girl like you nervous."

Samus didn't respond, instead, she bent down to pick something up off the ground and tossed it his way. Snake caught the little shiny object. It was his zippo. It must have flown out of his pocket when she punched him. Snake watched her backside as she strutted away, down the sidewalk and out of the Courtyard. Her hips had a sway to them that nearly made him drool. Damn. He was going to like it here.

Snake finally lit up his cigarette. A few puffs begin to dull the pain in his jaw. He made sure to tuck his zippo away in the inside pocket where it always went.

Was that woman Samus really only trying to say hello? She had the perfect opportunity to greet him in the General Store, they were the only two patrons in there after all, but yet she didn't. She hung back and watched him. And after he'd left, she continued to follow him. Why? That Falcon guy greeted him immediately, so why didn't she?

"Poyo?"

Snake was startled out of his thoughts by a tiny voice. He looked to see where it came from only to be greeted by the sight of a strange, round, pink creature standing next to him on the bench.

"Poy?"

Snake yelped in surprise. He lept up out of his seat, but his heel caught the foot of the bench and he tumbled backwards, crashing to the ground.

"Poyo!" The little pink creature peered down at him over the bench's arm rest. Snake scooted away from it.

"Wh-what the hell is that?" He exclaimed.

The mysterious little being blinked. It had tall blue eyes and cheeks that were somehow pinker than it's entire body.

"Poy?" It said again, tilting it's head, or rather it's entire body, to the side. The pink creature looked at the ground. It hopped off the bench, walked a few feet away, and picked something up off the cold ground. It was Snake's lit cigarette. It must have flown out of his mouth when he fell. The creature turned to face him, holding the smoke in the air with his fingerless, stubby hands. "Po po poy?"

Snake didn't understand what it was trying to say. The creature came closer, motioning the cigarette to him. "Poyo."

"Uhh..." Snake slowly reached out to take the cigarette when the pink creature suddenly stuffed it in it's mouth. "Hey!"

It's eyes went wide and it spit the smoke out immediately. "Poyo poy!" It cried in disgust.

Snake snatched the cigarette off the ground. It was still lit and smoking. He was surprised to see it not covered in saliva. Not that he was going to stick it back in his mouth. He smushed it on the ground, stood, and stuffed the cigarette in his pocket. He dusted off his backside again. How many times was he gonna be knocked down today?

"Poyo..." The pink creature mumbled sadly, rubbing it's body. Snake guessed it might have been it's belly. Was it hungry? It just stuck a lit cigarette in it's mouth, shouldn't it be in pain?

"...Coulda told you that wasn't food." He mumbled. Suddenly he heard children's laughter.

"No need to get so freaked out. It's just Kirby." Said a voice.

He recognized who it belong to instantly. From behind one of the snow covered hedges appeared Ness, Link and Lucas. Ness and Link were laughing.

"Kirby is harmless. Except if you're food." Link added.

"Kirby?"

The children approached him. "We were playing hide and seek. Kirby, you ran off because you smelled something, didn't you?" Link asked. He picked Kirby up off the ground like it was a puppy.

"Poyo..." Kirby said sadly.

"What are you doing out here Mister?" Ness asked.

Snake rubbed his jaw. "Just taking a stroll. What is that thing?"

"This is our friend Kirby. He's a Smasher too, just like us." Link replied, holding the pink blob up for him to see. "We actually don't know what Kirby is, but Ness thinks that Kirby's a baby."

"A...baby?" Snake was bewildered.

"Kirby's been as long as I have too." Ness finished.

Another supposed veteran? Snake thought. He was beginning to feel outnumbered. Then a thought hit him. "Say Ness, I've got a question for you. Do you know a woman named Samus Aran?"

"Yeah, I know Samus." The child answered with a smile.

"What can you tell me about her?"

"What do you want to know?"

"Is she shy? Not good with meeting people?"

Ness shook his head. "No. She's not shy at all. Not like how Lucas is shy anyway." He looked back to the boy who was standing behind everyone. Lucas twiddled his fingers.

"Is she a friend of Bowser?"

Ness stuck out his tongue. "No way! She doesn't like Bowser at all."

"What does she look like? Is she a blonde woman?"

"Yeah she has blonde hair." Ness gave him an odd look. "Have you not met her yet? Or did you see her in her suit?"

"Suit?"

"Yeah. Her Varia suit. It's orange and red. She wears it when she fights."

"Why does she wear a suit?" He asked. The woman seemed strong enough without it. Maybe the suit is what Otacon saw on the Encyclopedia.

Ness shrugged. "She said her family gave it to her."

"Is she strong?"

"Yeah! She's really, really strong! And always gets super far in the tournament."

"Does she?"

Ness nodded.

Before he could ask any more questions, Link cut him off. "Hey, do you want to play with us?" He asked, smiling widely.

"Poyo poyo!" Kirby chirped in his arms.

"Sorry kids, I'm a little in pain from that fall earlier." He said, rubbing his lower back. "Maybe next time."

The boys booed. Snake looked at Lucas who hadn't said a word the whole time. "Hey kid, that big ugly lizard hasn't bothered you since the other day, has he?"

Lucas shook his head. "Not at all."

"Good. Any one who picks on little kids has no spine. You let me know if he ever bothers you again, and I'll take care of them." Snake said.

"We coulda handled him ourselves." Ness huffed. Link nodded, a determined look on his face.

"Poy!" Kirby added, trying to look tough as well.

"Sure you could have. I'll see you kids later. Don't stay out too long, it's cold out here." Snake said. He waved goodbye and the children waved back at him. The pink creature excitedly waved both of it's stubby arms.

"Poyoooo!" It cried.


 

-Two Days Later-

It finally came time for their meeting. Samus, Zelda, Peach, Link, Falco, Fox and Falcon all sat at the biggest table in the cafeteria, with a couple extra chairs pulled up. They were posing as if they were just friends having lunch together. Though that wasn't entirely untrue. They were missing a few members again.

Samus casually peered around the room, watching for any alloys that came too close to their table to hear their conversation. The pink cafeteria workers were all busy cleaning up the food stations and restocking all the food they just cleared out. The cashier was chatting with a yellow delivery alloy. Another was mopping the floors in the hall. No one was close by.

Fox put a small pad of paper and pen on the table. He lowered his voice. "Alright guys, it's been a few days since our last meeting. I know we had to scramble, but I hope we've all been able to do some meet and greets. So, who have we all spotted?"

Zelda went first. "I got to speak to the young man with wings. His name is Pit. He's an angel who serves in the holy guard of his goddess' army. I don't believe he is someone we need to watch out for. In fact, he seems keen on defeating evil. I'm certain he may be an ally."

"A real angel?" Samus questioned.

"That's what he told me. His wings are white, though I did not seen him fly." Zelda replied.

Fox sketched two columns on the pad and wrote the name down on one side.

"I saw a couple of newbies," added Falcon, "Kid in a red hat and backpack. He's a Pokemon trainer. Told me his name is Red. The other was a small, peculiar looking man. He wore a sealed space suit and glass helmet. Didn't speak a lick of English, so I couldn't understand anything he'd said."

"Oh, that's Olimar." Samus said. Falcon looked at her.

"Samus and I met and spoke with him a couple of days ago. Olimar is a Hocotatian. We think he's good." Fox added. He wrote Olimar's name below Pit's.

"You don't say. I've never see a Hocotatian in person. I thought they were supposed to be smaller." Falcon pondered. "You guys could understand him?"

"No. He had a Translator on his suit." Samus clarified.

"He didn't have one when I met him, though, that might have been that box he kept whacking at on his suit." Falcon mumbled to himself, "Anyway, that Red kid doesn't seem like a threat either. He's just a teenager." Fox wrote down the name as well.

It was Link's turn to speak, "I've seen a swordsman. He had blue hair and a red cape. He seems pretty wary of everything. I haven't had a chance to speak to him yet, so I didn't get his name, sorry."

"Ah, that's Ike." Fox said, pointing the pen to Link. Fox turned to Samus. "You remember when we moved our ships, Samus? That guy on the hill we thought was Marth?" She nodded. "It wasn't. It was that Ike Greil guy, from the Encyclopedia. I spoke to him, though, I wasn't able to get much out of the guy."

"What was your impression?" Zelda asked.

"I think he's okay. Link is right though, the guy is pretty on guard. He also called me an Iaguz. Anyone know what that is?" Fox asked. Everyone shook their heads no.

"I also seen two newbies," Falco interjected without waiting for Fox to finish what he was saying. "Some spikey blue hedgehog, seemed like a real cocky piece of work. Runs real fast too. I'm talking sound barrier fast."

Falcon lifted up his sunglasses to look at Falco. "He runs fast?"

"Yeah! Runs! With his feet! He just zipped off in a blue blur!"

The whole table hushed Falco. The bird crossed his arms grumpily. Samus looked back to the alloy workers. The cashier had looked over at them briefly but returned to chatting with the other alloy.

"Falco please watch your volume." Fox warned him. "Who was the other person you saw?"

"A stocky fat guy. Smelled like a stinking garbage can." Falco fanned his nose, "He had a crooked mustache and a really annoying laugh too."

"Wario." Peach finally spoke. Everyone looked at her. She sighed. "You should write his name down Fox. He's a shady character."

Fox did so in the second column. "Anyone else?"

Everyone took their turns naming the new people they'd spotted. A bi-pedal jackal-like Pokemon. A very large, royally dressed penguin wielding a giant hammer. A robot. Another child with a blond cowlick that was already hanging around with Ness and the child Link. A chimpanzee in a red shirt and ball cap, though this critter seemed to always be with the ape DK. And a mysterious, round, armored creature who looked to be the same species as Kirby.

Fox went over the list. "Alright so our main shady characters are still Ganon and Bowser. Now there's Wolf," Falco groaned at the mention of the name, "and Wario. Is there anybody else we're missing?"

Samus had been waiting to bring up the bearded stranger she'd met two days ago, the one she'd accidentally punched. She was about to speak when Falcon waved his hand for attention.

"There is someone else. I met this man. Scruffy brown hair and face. Said he was military. Special Forces." The Captain said.

Falco's head shot up, Fox's ears perked and Samus tilted her head. They all spoke at the same time: "Special Forces?"

Falcon nodded. "His name is Solid Snake. The guy looks intimidating as hell but didn't seem like a bad character when I spoke to him."

"I've met him that guy too Douglas, just a couple of days ago in fact." Samus added. "I saw him in town and followed him."

"Hey, that's when I saw him." Falcon replied.

"Wait, so that wasn't Falcon?" Fox asked.

Samus shook her head. "I told you it wasn't. Though, it makes sense he'd be Special Forces. The guy knew I was following him and he snuck up behind me."

"Oh my. He didn't hurt you, did he?" Peach asked.

"No, not at all, in fact I...kind of...punched him in the face." Samus replied.

"You punched him?" Link asked.

"What did he do?" Falcon questioned, leaning forward with a concerned look.

"He confronted me about following him, which he had every right to, honestly," Samus admitted, "I didn't even hear or sense him behind me. He disappeared perfectly. He scared the hell out of me and I just reacted. I apologized to him for it."

"And what did he say?" Zelda asked.

"...He hit on me."

Everyone looked confused.

"Hit on you?" Falcon's brow furrowed. "As in, he flirted with you?"

She nodded, "He told me that he'd met you too Captain. I thought he might have been from your home, until he told me he was from Earth."

"Wait a sec, he's from your planet?" Falco asked.

Samus shook her head, "No. Our years we came from were different, so were the names of our galaxies. He'd told me he was retired from the military and was currently working for an NGO." She put a hand to her chin, "I wonder what's the truth."

"Special forces and NGO. Guys got quite a resume." Falcon said, crossing his arms.

"So, remains to be seen." Fox wrote down the man's name down in a third column.

"Maybe not. He did tell me he got in a fight with Bowser because he was messing with the kids." Samus added.

"I know where his apartment is located. I'll definitely keep an eye on him." Falcon nodded to her.

Zelda leaned on the table. "Fox, you and Falco are very familiar with Wolf. What are his chances he is a threat?"

"Major!" Falco huffed in spite.

Fox shook his head, dismissing his partner's statement. "Wolf isn't the friendliest person, but he's nothing like Ganondorf or Bowser. He wouldn't join in their want for destruction, it wouldn't serve him any good. If he's here, he's here for one thing: Money. I don't think we need to watch him."

Zelda looked to Peach, "And Wario?"

The pink princess gave an apologetic look. "He and Bowser have joined forces in the past. I have no reason to doubt he won't do it again. Sometimes he enjoys the chaos."

Zelda folded her utensils on the food tray with regal precision. She put her hands in her lap. "Now that we have met everyone, our next objection will be to try and recruit to them to our cause. We accomplished this last year and we can surely do it again. We already have our list of possible allies, we must now asses if the others can be convinced." She looked around and everyone silently nodded at her. Samus too.

Zelda smiled. "I believe this will be our last meeting on the matter. Please everyone, tell the others who could not make it today. And once again, be careful." The brunette princess looked over at her. Samus laughed nervously.

Everyone voiced their agreement.


 

Down below, on the second level of the cafeteria, Snake remained pressed up against the wall, out of sight from the group above. He put a finger to his ear and activated his Codec.

"Otacon, you won't believe what I just stumbled onto."

Chapter Text

"An alliance?"

"A secret alliance, between some of the veterans and other competitors."

"Well well, the plot thickens."

Snake was in his apartment, a finger placed to his ear and an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth. It was starting to snow heavily outside in the darkening light. Snake had waited until he got back to his apartment to relay everything he'd heard to Otacon. The group that was meeting spoke quietly, obviously it was not something anyone was meant to hear, so he shouldn't say it all out in the open either. Well, most of them were quiet, one was rather loud and careless. Pretty bold of them to meet where there were so many alloys working.

Snake had pushed one of the bedside dressers into the small hallway leading to the front door and was currently standing on top of it. He was undoing the small screws to the face plate of his smoke detector that was on the ceiling.

"Bowser. Wolf. Wario. Ganon. That's all the names they threw out. Characters they called 'shady'" Snake repeated, "I've met Bowser, he was a real piece of work."

"If those others are anything like Bowser, they all have to be bad news too."

"So, what'd you find out?"

Otacon had been searching the Encyclopedia for information on the other three. Snake could hear a mouse clicking in his ear. "I've gathered up all the info I could find, but it's not much. This is all just general information and synopsis of their lives, mind you."

Snake cupped four tiny screws in his hand and popped off the face plate. "Let's hear it."

"First up is Wario. Age unknown. Short fat guy, bulbous pink nose, mustache like a '60s Bond villain. Seen anyone like that?" Otacon asked. When Snake grunted no, he continued, "Says here Wario runs his own small time video game making company. He is known for being conniving and greedy. He's apparently got a gigantic hoard of riches that he adds to by stealing from people, including his own friends."

"Hard to believe a guy like that could even have friends. If he runs a video game company, why would he need to steal?"

"Must not be very successful."

Snake pulled out the battery. The detector beeped once loudly, startling him, then it was silent.

"What was that?" Otacon asked.

"Nothing."

"That sounded like an alarm. What are you doing over there?"

Snake put the face plate back on the detector. He grumbled quietly to himself, "Can't even smoke in my own room..."

"...That was your smoke detector, wasn't it?"

"Maybe."

Otacon sighed. "You never change."

"Who's next?" Snake asked.

More mouse clicks. "Next up is Wolf. And...that's...exactly what he is. A wolf."

"Huh?"

"An anthropomorphic wolf, to be more precise. His full name is Wolf O'Donnell. Age thirty six. Gray fur. Mean looking. He's got an eyepatch over his left eye. Says here he's a pilot and the boss of his own mercenary group called Starwolf. Apparently he's a wanted criminal."

"A wolf, named Wolf, who runs a group of mercs called Starwolf?" Snake scoffed, carefully screwing the tiny screws back in, "That's not very imaginative..."

"Of course you're familiar with Bowser." Otacon continued. Snake grunted. "Apparently, Bowser really is a king. He causes regular chaos and civil disturbances in a place called Mushroom Kingdom. Either him or his children, the Koopalings."

Snake's voice was incredulous, "Bowser has children?"

"Eight of them. He also makes a habit of kidnapping one of the other competitors, that Princess Peach, pretty frequently."

Snake nearly dropped the last screw. "Kidnapping?! And Master Hand brought him here? Along with his victim?" He shook his head. "Must be traumatizing for her to see him here. That glove really is inhuman."

"Of course he's not human. He's a god, remember?"

Snake growled. "I didn't mean it literally..."

"Anyway, the princess is always rescued by a pair of brothers named Mario and Luigi. Only to be kidnapped again."

Snake scoffed. "Not sure if Bowser has nothing better to do or those brothers aren't very competent. Are they competitors too?"

"The brothers? Yeah. Mario Mario and Luigi Mario."

"Their last name is Mario?"

"That's what is says."

This place was ranking high on the weird names list. He got down from the nightstand, the smoke detector in one undisturbed piece again, and carried the little dresser back to it's place by the side of his bed. "I would say, 'well at least the brothers are here to protect her', but it's not like they were doing a good job of it in the first place."

Otacon went on. "Lastly is Ganon. His full name is Ganondorf Dragmire. Age unknown. The profile says Ganondorf is a sorcerer who was given divine power from a deity, and with it he seeks to bring death and destruction to a land called Hyrule, by way of overthrowing the current princess and her regime."

"A usurper, huh?"

"He recently took part in an uprising where he took control of another king, possessed the other princess, Zelda, and nearly succeeded in his destruction. But in the end, he was defeated."

"This one seems more ambitious than Bowser. Sounds more dangerous too, especially with that divine power. Does that mean he's a god too?"

"Not sure. But Ganondorf is a veteran."

Snake sat down on his bed. He placed the lamp back on top of the dresser without plugging it in. He took his Zippo out from his pants pocket and lit his cigarette at last. He inhaled a deep puff and sighed it out. "It's starting to make sense now. The alliance to stop the bad guys from winning."

"Defeat me and I'll grant you your one greatest desire in the whole world. Is there someone you loved once but lost? You can have them back. Is there a loved one or a dear friend that's passed on to the other side, quite too soon? I can bring them back. Or maybe there's something wrong with you. Something that no amount of money or all the doctors in the world it can buy can fix. I can fix it for you."

"The prizes are unlimited riches and a wish. Money can do a lot of harm." Otacon said.

"That wish could do a lot more. He'll grant anyone their one greatest desire, so long as they can beat him. I doubt Master Hand will discriminate against the nature of the winner's desire either."

"They could wish for great power. Or death."

"The plot thickens." Snake repeated, inhaling more fumes and blowing them out. "So, that's why she was following me. That woman Samus. She was scouting me."

"You said that group was listing off people they'd met and their impressions of them. It seems they've scouted every new face there."

Snake put a hand to his chin. "Falcon did the same thing too. He wasn't just saying hello when I first met him." He recalled the man's words about him at the secret meeting. "He doesn't believe I'm a threat. Maybe Samus doesn't either. But now, it seems they're moving onto phase two of their plan: recruitment."

"You think someone may approach you again? Get you to join their side?"

Snake smirked slyly through slight discomfort. "Well, I wouldn't mind seeing Samus again. Maybe she can convince me."

Otacon almost laughed. "What's that I hear? Crushing on one of the girls a little too early, aren't we Snake?"

Snake chuckled. Otacon had no idea. He'd been thinking about that woman Samus ever since they'd met. He brushed his fingers lightly across his sore jaw. Right after their meeting in the Courtyard, and his brief chat with the kids a couple of days ago, he stopped by the General Store again to purchase an icepack and a bottle of aspirin. He could tell the alloy cashier was giving him a funny look, even though she didn't have a face. He'd made up some convincing story to explain the growing red welt on his face and she believed him, she even offered her sympathies. Snake'd been icing his jaw, but man, did he have a HUGE bruise. He was reluctant to go outside with it. That woman sure could punch.

"So, what are you going to do?"

"About what?"

"The secret alliance. The recruitment."

Snake shrugged. "Nothing. It has nothing to do with me. I've been excluded as a target, at least. And there's no way in hell I'd join them either."

Otacon made some grunting noises, Snake guessed he was adjusting his position in his chair. "Guess you're right. You have your own goals to focus on, after all. If those people are found out, that's grounds for disqualification. And you don't want to go down with their club."

Snake suddenly remembered words along those lines being hurled at him by that ugly brute Bowser. He inhaled another puff and blew it out in thought. "You know, Bowser said something similar when I first met him. He'd asked Ness if I've been recruited into their club. I wonder, do the bad guys know they're being ganged up on?"

"If they do then why don't they report it?"

Snake took the cigarette out of his mouth and held it between his fingers. "I can't speak for the others, but Bowser doesn't seem like the type to tattle tell to Master Hand about it. He'd probably hatch his own scheme to get back at them."

"Like what?"

"Attacking them out in the open, maybe?"

Otacon sighed. "You've gotten yourself into a real mess, Snake."

He grumbled again and stuck the cigarette back in his mouth. Snake stood up from his bed and walked into the giant closet. He grabbed one of the many empty suitcases that were strewn on the floor and dug around inside. "I thought this was supposed to be a simple fighting Tournament. Ike was right, this is a lot more complicated that it looks." He pulled out an ashtray that he'd brought from home and smushed the cigarette ashes into it.

"Master Hand doesn't even know about a conspiracy right under his nose." Otacon responded.

Snake went back inside to the sunken living room and sat on his couch. He placed the ashtray on the coffee table. "In any case, none of it is my problem. The veterans can scheme it out between themselves if they want. I want no part of it. I've had enough of being someone's lackey." He took a deep puff on his cigarette. He snatched up the remote next to his empty food container from the Cafeteria to change to channel on the TV. "Which reminds me, I have a bone to pick with you, Otacon." Snake growled at him.

"Me? What did I do?" His friend sounded confused.

"You said Samus Aran was an android. But she was human."

Otacon adioubly grumbled. "How was I supposed to know she was wearing a powersuit?"


-Month 1, Day 15-

The new year finally rolled around. It was now just a month until the official start of the tournament and Snake's terminal was being flooded with emails, almost daily. They were mostly announcements about the shops finally opening in town, as well as the port town down by the coast. It seems interstellar travelers were arriving and setting up their businesses there.

Another email included a daily schedule for the buses that drove to and from the port town everyday. Snake hadn't yet been there, but he made a note to go and check it out sometime.

There was also a curious email from the staff, a warning of intruders spotted in the gated off area they all lived behind. Snake was alarmed at first until the intruders were described as small, furred creatures, only about a foot in height. They were not considered dangerous and were easily spooked. The email requested that if anyone spotted them to report it to security immediately. Snake wondered just what these creatures could be.

In the meantime, he had begun his preparation for the tournament. Snake went to one of the gyms in town and worked out everyday, lifting weights, punching the sandbags and working on his cardio. If there was anything that woman Samus had taught him, it was that the contestants here were not to be taken lightly. The invitation said Master Hand had gathered the universes' best after all. He was flattered to be counted among them.

Snake also began running. The alloys who worked in the gym recommended a few running trails to him. The shortest one was along the sidewalks in town. A longer trail ran through the expansive gardens and courtyards and it offered a more scenic view, the alloys said. But the longest, more rougher trail, ran outside of the gates, on the edge of the desert, through the plains, and curved back around into the gates through the dense forrest on the northern edge of the island. Snake was going to try that trail for the first time today.

After gulping two cups of gross, stale coffee, he put on his trench coat and threw his gym bag with his workout clothes over his shoulder. He'd exercise for a few hours and then go running.

Snake briefly ran a thumb over his jaw again. His bruise had long gone away. He could still recall the fierce look on Samus' face when she turned around and clocked him. He also remembered her very small smile in their conversation afterward. She was a gorgeous woman. Too bad he hadn't seen her again.

Locking up his apartment, Snake troped down the cobblestone road, which had been plowed and cleared of snow; the drifts were still piled high on the sides of the road. It wasn't snowing today, or had for the last couple of days, which had to be a nice break for the alloys. They'd been working non-stop to keep all the streets and the sidewalks clear.

He was going to get a nice hot breakfast first. The Cafeteria was too far away, but thankfully there were bus stops in town, especially the stop at the end of the road from the Complexes. He never had to wait long there before one came by.

He stood at the bus stop for only thirty seconds when a shuttle pulled up next to him. The doors slid open and the alloy driver kindly greeted him. "Hey there! Where can I take 'ya pal?"

"Cafeteria please." He replied. Snake boarded the shuttle and sank into the center seat of one of the two rows. Even though the alloys couldn't feel cold, he was glad the vehicles still came with heating. Not that it was too cold outside. Not for him. This was nothing compared to the minus zero degree temperatures of Alaska. The shuttle didn't leave just yet.

"Hey! Don't leave me behind!" Another voice called outside.

"Of course not. Where are you headed?" The driver asked, looking out of the open doors.

Another passenger got on the bus. It was that man Falcon. "Cafeteria, please." He said.

The alloy nodded. "I'll take you both there."

Falcon thanked the driver. He turned into the dark cabin and grinned when he spotted Snake. "Hey there! I thought it was you Snake. Good morning."

"Long time no see." Snake greeted, nodding to him.

The doors of the shuttle slid close and they drove off. Falcon sat down directly across from him. He still wore his dark shades and the same blue, striped racing jacket he'd had on before. "No kidding. It's been about what? A month? How have you been? Gotten used to this place yet?" He asked.

"Hardly notice the alloys aren't human anymore." Snake quipped.

The man laughed. "So, wher're you headed? Grabbing some breakfast too?"

"Need to fill up before my workout."

"Me too. I've got to grab breakfast before I start my run." Snake did notice Falcon had a gym bag around his shoulder too.

Snake wondered for a moment if Falcon had boarded the bus because he saw that he'd gotten on. He wondered if Falcon was keeping an eye on him, as he told that woman Samus he would. Was he socializing with him now to gauge him further? Asked what he was doing and where he was going to keep track of him?

"Why not just run all the way to the cafeteria?" Snake asked, part jokingly. He wanted to throw the man off, and it kind of worked. Falcon's expression froze for a millisecond before he laughed again.

"If I did that, I'd burn away all my breakfast before I even got started. Not a smart way to start the day Snake." He replied.

Snake shrugged. "Guess you're right."

It was worth a shot. The man could gauge him all he wanted, Snake didn't plan on sabotaging anybody or even associating with their group. If they got caught then that was their problem. He was there for one thing and one thing only, to fight like hell for that wish.

"Have you met any of the others yet?" Falcon asked him.

"Not lately. The last time I ran into anybody who wasn't an alloy was almost a month ago. And it was just the kids again. They were hanging around some pink creature. Strangest thing I've ever seen." Snake replied.

Falcon tilted his head. "Pink creature? Did it have red shoes, or ears?" He asked, gesturing to the top of his head.

Snake thought about it. He didn't remember that blob having any ears. "Red shoes." He answered.

"Ah. That was Kirby."

"Yeah, that thing."

"Kirby always hangs around and plays with the children. Either him or Yoshi."

"Yoshi?"

The man crossed his arms and sighed like he was thinking deeply, "Of course when Yoshi is around, he won't let Kirby anywhere near the children. He can be so aggressive sometimes, despite how adorable he is."

Snake didn't know what the man was talking about. "You know, I also met a friend of yours that same day. A woman named Samus Aran." Snake watched Falcon for his reaction. The man uncrossed his arms, looked at Snake and smiled a genuine smile.

"Ah, you did? Samus is one of my oldest friends here, and one of the kindest people you'll ever meet." He replied.

"She's also got the punch of a champion boxer." Snake commented.

"Punch? Did she hit you?" Falcon looked concerned. Snake thought it was almost convincing.

"She was stalking me, following me around town. I managed to slip out of her sight and get the jump on her. That's when she punched me." Snake pointed to the spot on his cheek where she hit him. "She make a habit out of following people?"

Falcon pushed his sunglasses up to look at him. Snake could see the scar on his head more clearly. It cut through the end of his left eyebrow. His eyes were brown. "You sure she was stalking you? Maybe she was just trying to say hello."

It was Snake's turn to cross his arms. "She admitted she was. Said she didn't know how to approach me. She also apologized for punching me. Said I'd scared her and it was just a reaction."

The man's concerned expression disappeared. He dropped his sunglasses back over his eyes and his winning smiled surfaced again. "Yeah, that sounds about right. Samus is a bounty hunter for a living, you know. You can't just sneak up on her like that. It's sort of her habit to gauge people first. Comes from the job." He chuckled. "You know, I didn't want to say anything because we don't know each other that well, but you do have a scary-looking face. I wasn't quite sure how to approach you either, to be honest."

Snake knew Falcon was covering for the woman. His reply was a smidge sarcastic. "Really?"

Falcon started to talk about Samus, about how he'd first met her and how they became friends. Then he started to talk about the trail he ran. The long trail that went outside of the gates, the same one Snake was going to try today. Apparently Falcon ran it every single day. Said he believed speed over power was a better strategy in combat. Snake had to agree with him.

The shuttle finally arrived at the Cafeteria. Both men thanked the alloy driver and disembarked.

Falcon didn't stick around for breakfast, he took his to go. Before he left, he gave Snake a warning about the long trail. "It runs into the forest and gets pretty close to the Ground Housing." He said.

"Ground Housing?"

"The Ground Housing is where all the non-human competitors stay. Including ones who possess near-human intelligence, like Kirby. They have fancy kennels out there with all the works built in. Even Kirby has his own little house but he never sleeps in it. The alloys are always finding him sleeping in the trees or on the roofs of buildings all around town." Falcon chuckled.

"In this weather?" Snake asked.

The man shrugged. "Don't know. This is the first time this island has had weather. Hopefully wherever he sleeps, it's warm and indoors." Falcon waved his hand. "Anyway, getting back to the subject, there's someone out there in the forest you should avoid. And well, avoid them anywhere, really." Snake listened, thinking he was going to talk about one of the shady characters. "You have to watch out for another pink creature. This one is about the same size as Kirby, but looks totally different. She has little ears and curly hair on her head. She's always carrying around a marker with her too."

Snake was confused. "She?"

"This creature is a Pokemon. Her name is Jigglypuff." Falcon pointed a stern finger at him. "Do not let her sing to you. No matter what. If you see her, run the other way. Immediately."

"Why?" Snake asked.

"Just run." Was all he would say. And with that, Falcon left the cafeteria with his to-go breakfast in a plastic bag.

Snake was left standing there to ponder the man's cryptic words. "Jiggly...puff?"


Hours later, his workout completed, Snake was dressed warmly for his run. The alloy receptionist at the gym didn't call this a rough trail for nothing. The short trail that ran in town comprise of concrete sidewalks. The medium trail was both sidewalks and a wide dirt path in the gardens. But the long trail was barely anything, just the ghost of a faint trail. This one wasn't used a whole lot.

The wind blew sharply over the desert and bit at his face as he ran. The plains, when he'd reached them, were a little less cold but the wind was still harsh. It blew over the miles and miles of tall, dead, frozen grass.

Running back through the giant iron gates that were the boundaries of their living area, the trail widened and became a more distinct, more well-traveled dirt path. Snake ran past a glass structure that was shaped like a huge pyramid. He wondered what this building could be. A few hundred feet away from that was yet another glass building. It was circular like the Super Dome, with dozens of vents covering the roof. Even from as far away as he was, he could hear the low hum of the numerous air filters. He wondered even more what this building could be.

It was here that Snake witnessed a peculiar scene. A brown colored creature came barreling out of the tall grass in front of him, causing Snake to skid to a stop. It tripped and face-planted in the mud. The furry creature got back up, wiped it's face with it's stubby, finger-less hands and that's when it spotted him. It was almost completely covered head to toe in brown hair and had huge brown eyes. It didn't have a nose or a mouth. Snake blinked. The little creature panicked and took off running into the tall grass on the other side of the trail. It didn't make any noise.

"What...the hell what that?" Snake said to himself.

He heard the snow crunching and seconds later, an orange alloy came running up to him. "Hey! Did you see which way that Waddle Dee went? Did you see it?" It asked.

"Waddle...Dee?"

"Little furry creature? Stumpy arms and legs?"

"Yeah. I think I saw it just now. It went that way." Snake pointed in the direction the little blob had ran.

The alloy thanked him and took off running. It zoomed off in fact. That alloy was fast.

"Waddle Dee?" He repeated to himself. Was that another competitor? Was it in trouble? He remembered the email that was sent this morning about little furry intruders spotted behind the gates. Was that one of them?

Snake continued his run. He came upon the forest at last, which was the halfway point of the long trail. He wondered how thick this forest would be whenever it was spring and all the leafage grew back. The trees were incredibly tall and loomed over head. They looked like redwoods.

At this point Snake was starting to get tired. None of the other trails were remotely this long. Falcon said he ran this trail every single day. How did the man do it? Snake told himself he was just getting old. Maybe it was time for a break.

Suddenly, something else jumped out in front of him. Snake stumbled to a stop, nearly falling over this time. He expected to see another brown blob being chased by another alloy, but it wasn't. It was a small animal with bright yellow fur. It shook snow and water vigorously out of it's coat then sat on it's haunches and started to groom it's little face. The animal stopped when it spotted him.

"Pika?" It chittered.

Snake looked at it. The creature had black tipped ears and an oddly shaped, jagged tail. It was about the size of a terrier. Snake recognized this animal. He'd seen one of these on those Pokemon Beauty Contest shows. But...what was it's name again?

"Pika...chuu." It chittered again.

The animal stood in it's spot, not moving. It looked up at him with beady, black eyes. Snake would have thought it'd run away upon seeing him, but it didn't. It just sat there and sniffed the air in his direction. The more Snake looked at the animal the more he realized it was...kind of cute.

He looked to his left, then to his right, then behind him. No one was around. He crouched down low and held out a hand to the animal, palm facing upwards. He clicked his tongue. The creature's long ears perked up.

"Pi?"

He beckoned the animal. It tilted it's head and instead took a step to the side. With dogs, this was an unsure sign, but...this creature wasn't a dog at all. He clicked his tongue again and waved his hand softly, speaking lightly. The critter took another step to the side, ears still up, still assessing if he was an enemy or a friend. Snake had to show the creature he meant no harm. He sat down on the cold ground and crossed his legs in front of him. He held out his hand again. This did the trick. The little creature began to slowly creep towards him.

"Come on. It's okay." He said softly.

Snake stayed absolutely still, letting the critter sniff his fingers. He scritched the animals' muzzle lightly. It must have tickled, for it shook it's head, stood on it's haunches again and rubbed it's face, letting out a, "Chuuu..."

The animal returned to sniffing his hand. Snake managed to scratch behind one ear, and then the other. It purred. Snake smiled a little as he stroked the animal's head.

ZAP!

Snake yelped. He'd brushed his hand over the critter's plump red cheeks and he felt a shock. It was only a tiny jolt, like sticking your finger in a light bulb socket for a second, but it surprised him. The animal didn't seem to be affected though. It looked up at him.

"Pika pi." It chittered happily.

Snake remembered then that this animal had the power to generate electricity. Did it come from those plump red cheeks? The critter wagged it's jagged tail a couple of times and got a little closer to him. "Pika...chuuu."

Snake put out his hand again. He'd be more careful when petting it this time.

"Jiggly!"

He heard a small voice. Still sitting on the ground, he turned to look behind him. Standing a few feet away was the pink blob Kirby.

"Puff puff?" He said.

"Oh, it's Kirby."

"Jiggly! Jiggly!" Kirby puffed up big and bounced happily towards him.

"Pika!"

Snake looked back at the yellow critter. It's ears and tail went straight up in alarm. It run and bounded quickly into the snow covered bushes.

"Hey..." Snake felt a little disappointed that the animal left. He turned around to look at Kirby. "Why did you scare it off?" He grumbled. But Kirby didn't answer him, he just stared back at Snake.

Snake got up from the cold ground and dusted off his pants. "What is it? You and the kids playing hide and seek again?" He asked.

"Jiggly!"

Snake noticed that the pink blob looked...a little different. He didn't remember Kirby having pointed ears like a cat, or a pink bow on a strand of curly hair. He didn't remember Kirby having any hair at all. It also had a pen in it's hand and no red shoes.

"Not Kirby..." Snake furrowed his brow slightly. "Who are you?"

The pink creature babbled happily. It started to bounce around him in a circle, almost like it weighted nothing. What was this creature so happy about? It stopped to wave the marker around, babbling some more. Snake didn't know what it was trying to say.

"You have to watch out for another pink creature. This one is about the same size as Kirby, but looks totally different. She has little ears and curly hair on her head. She's always carrying around a marker with her too. Her name is Jigglypuff. Do not let her sing to you. No matter what. If you see her, run the other way. Immediately."

Oh, that's right. Falcon had warned him about this creature. He was supposed to avoid all contact with it, but...why? She was so small and harmless looking. What could possibly be threatening about her?

The pink creature waved the marker again, it's giant eyes were sparkling. Snake bent down to it's level. "What? What is it?"

She put the marker to her mouth and started to sing, as if it were a microphone. Snake's ears were filled with the little creature's charming voice. The melody it sang was beautiful and soothing. He closed his eyes and listened to it. It was relaxing. All the stresses of his life seemed to melt away. There were no more Patriots, no more impending World War III and no pesky Ocelot to cause trouble for anyone. Just him, back at his home in Alaska, loafing on his big comfy couch with a dozen huskies all crowded around him. He never felt so relaxed in his life. He felt like he was floating on a cloud of pure happiness.

His limbs started to become heavy and his eyes began to droop. He was starting to feel sleepy. Really sleepy. Maybe he'd worked out enough for today, this trail was way too long. Maybe he should just go home, change into some sleeping clothes and take a nap on his soft mattress.

Or maybe...maybe he could nap here...just a little...just...for five minutes...

Snake dropped to his knees and fell face first on the ground.


"He...ey..."

Someone was shaking him.

"...ake up...you alright...?"

He blinked his eyes open.

"He's waking."

Snake was lying face down on the muddy ground. He groaned. What the hell happened? Did he fall asleep? The hands kept shaking him.

"Sir, are you with us?"

Snake groggily pushed himself up and off the ground. He sat on his knees and rubbed his eyes. His shirt and pants had wet spots from the damp ground. He dusted himself off again. "What happened...?" He asked the voices sleepily.

"Looks like Jigglypuff got to you my friend." Answered a male.

Two men were standing over him. One was a choppy haired blond dressed in a rustic, fur lined tunic. The other appeared much older and had a head of short, blue hair. A dark blue cape was wrapped around his shoulders and a glinting, golden tiara adorned his head. The yellow animal Snake saw earlier was perched on the shoulder of the younger man. Both of them had swords strapped to their backs.

"Pika." The animal chittered.

"Jigglypuff...?" Snake repeated.

"Before you fell asleep, did you see a pink creature? She would have been wearing a little bow in her hair. She probably had a marker she sang into, right?" The blue haired stranger asked.

"Yeah...I saw her. She started singing and then I...I felt so relaxed and..."

"And then you feel asleep." Finished the other man.

"Did that thing put me to sleep?"

Both men offered their hands. He grabbed hold and they pulled him to his feet. Snake straightened out his rumpled, wet clothing.

"Jigglypuff has the power to lull anyone it sings to into a deep slumber." The blue-haired man replied, "She's been trying to find someone to stay awake through her song, but no one can. And if you fall asleep, well..."

Snake looked at him. "Well...what?"

The blond kid reached behind him and unsheathed his sword. He twirled it around in his hand a couple of times before sticking it in front of Snake's face, the blade facing downward. "Take a look for yourself." He said.

Snake noticed how the youth held the heavy-looking claymore with just one hand. The handle was dark and unusually shaped, the blade had curious etchings in it too. He peered into the reflective surface. It wasn't the best mirror, but Snake could make out that the whole right side of his face had been drawn on with a black marker.

"What the-?! Did that thing draw on my face?!" He exclaimed, touching a hand to his cheek.

"That's her punishment for you falling asleep." The blue haired man laughed lightly and rubbed the back of his head. "It's happened to all of us, unfortunately."

"Chuuu..." The yellow critter sighed, it's ears drooping. The blond guy just smiled nervously.

Snake tried to rub the marker off his face. "Is this permanent?"

"It can be tough to scrub off, but it is not permanent." The blond replied simply, sheathing his sword again. That's not what he meant. Snake grabbed a handful of snow from the grass. He rubbed it on his face but the black marker only smudged off on his hands. The two men started snickering behind him.

"You might want to stop, you're only making it worse."

The older man walked up to him and pulled out a handkerchief from a pouch on his belt and handed it to Snake. "Here. You can use this."

Snake took the cloth. It was made of a really nice material and had embroidered edges. He hoped the man wouldn't mind him getting marker and possibly mud all over such a nice cloth. He motioned to the guy. "Thanks. Who're you guys?"

The blue haired man opened his mouth to speak first, but the blond cut him off. He motioned to the man grandly, bowing low. "May I introduce, the humble King Marth."

"King?"

The blue haired man held up his hands defensively to his bowing companion. "Please Sir Link, you really don't have to keep doing that..."

Link?

The blond stood up, as if he hadn't heard the man. He had a big friendly grin plastered on his face. "And I am called Link. It's nice to meet you." He bowed slightly to Snake.

The yellow critter piped up on his shoulder again. "Pika pi!"

Snake nodded back to both of them. He pointed a finger at the blond. "You said your name is Link, right?" He nodded. Snake looked at him more closely. The swordsman did somewhat resemble the young, cat-eyed child. They even had the same name. Could they possibly be related? And if they were, what kind of parents gave their kids the same name anyway? "Lemme ask you something. Do you have a younger brother?"

The older-looking Link furrowed his brow in confusion, but that was quickly replaced by a nervous laugh. "So you've met the uh...other Link have you?"

"Other Link?"

"We're not brothers, we're...actually the same person." Hearing the weird grunt Snake made and seeing the expression on his face, the swordsman clarified. "You see, he and I are from different...uh...eras. I don't know whose future or whose past but we share the same destiny and same purpose. We probably will throughout all of time. Master Hand has plucked us both from those uh...places in time...and now we're here. Though, I'm not sure I'll ever get used to seeing another me walking around." He laughed nervously again.

Snake thought back to when he met Samus, how she'd been from a planet Earth too. An alternate reality or future Earth, he didn't know. And now, he was meeting the same persons, from the same place, only different places in time. Well, Master Hand did say there were no barriers for him. Why did this feel a little familiar? Snake nodded, "You know, that isn't as strange as you think it is."

"Oh? What makes you says so?" The older Link questioned.

Snake coughed. "Er, never mind." He turned his attention to the other man. "Marth, right? You're really a king?"

Marth nodded. "I am, though you do not have to think of me that way while we're here. We're all equals in this world." He stole a glance back to Link. The guy didn't even seem to notice though, he just kept that dumb smile on his face.

That would explain the crown, Snake thought. "What're you doing participating in this tournament? Don't you have a kingdom to rule, or something?"

"My wife is taking care of that while I'm away. Besides, I would not miss seeing my friends here for the world." Marth smiled genuinely. There was a warmness to it.

"You guys veterans?" Snake asked. Both of them nodded. Snake suddenly got a hunch. "Let me guess, third years, right?"

Link nodded again but Marth shook his head. "This is only my second time participating." He corrected.

Snake wondered to himself if these men were part of the veteran's alliance. The blond's voice certainly sounded familiar. Snake pointed to the yellow critter on his shoulder. "That your pet?"

Link looked up at the animal and scratched it's head. It purred. "Pikachu? No, but he is my friend. I've known him for a long time."

Oh yeah. That's what the little critter's name was. Snake decided to humor himself. "That rabbit's a competitor too, isn't he?"

Link looked confused. "Yes, but he's not a rabbit. He's a Pokemon."

"Pika pi!" The animal said. It held out a tiny paw to him. Snake blinked. Was it...trying to shake hands? He reached up touched a finger to it's little paw. "Chu!"

Snake felt a small stir in his chest.

Children, a baby, and a literal animal. All this place needed was some kind of mythological creature and they would be all set. Bet that animal was a third year too. He didn't bother asking.

"Tell us sir, what is your name?" Marth asked him.

"You can call me Snake." He replied.

"It's nice to meet you, Snake. What are you doing all the way out here?"

Snake looked around at the dense, desolate forest of redwoods. "Exercising. I went for a run along this trail until I ran into him." Snake nodded to Pikachu. "And then that...Jiggly-thing...came out of nowhere." He stuffed his hands in his pockets, "It's a good thing you guys came along. I don't know how long I would have been asleep for. Or what could have eaten me out here."

"There are no dangerous animals in these woods." Link responded. Then he put a hand to his chin, "Well, except maybe for Donkey Kong."

Snake lowered his brow. "Donkey Kong?"

Link waved his hands and corrected himself. "He's not dangerous, more like he's protective of his hoard and his house. If you ever see a giant ape out here, just give him a banana or two and he's as harmless as a lamb."

Snake stared at him. "...There's a gorilla out here? Where?"

Their conversation was cut off by a loud and terrible groan. It reverberated in the air around them. All heads shot up.

"What the hell was that noise?" Snake asked. "Is it the gorilla?"

The two swordsmen looked around. Pikachu's ears were straight up. The branches in the trees shuddered. There came another groan and the sound of splintering wood.

With lightning fast speed, Link grabbed Marth by the cape draped around his shoulders and Snake by the lapel of his jacket. He tackled them both to the ground.

"GET DOWN!"

At that moment one of the giant sequoias came crashing down, landing across the trail in a thunderous sound. The impact shook the ground like an earthquake.

The groaning stopped. The branches of other trees that had been in it's path broke off and fell to the ground in loud thumps. All three men lay on the muddy ground. Marth propped himself up on an elbow and looked at the massive tree laying across the trail, exactly where they'd all been standing a moment ago. He pat Link on the shoulder. "Quick thinking my friend. We would have been flattened."

Link got up onto a knee. He looked at the redwood. "I know the sound of a tree being felled anywhere."

The critter Pikachu had been thrown from his perch atop the blond's shoulder. He also lay on the ground nearby, flat on his back. "Pika..." He groaned.

Everyone got back to their feet. Link approached the tree and ran a hand across it's red bark.

"These trees usually fall over like that?" Snake asked him, dusting off his clothes once again.

"No, redwoods have the strongest roots there are." Link replied without looking back.

THUNK! ...THUNK! ...THUNK!

There came the sound of more wood breaking. Snake looked up in alarm. "What is that? Another tree?" He asked.

Link looked off to the direction the tree had fallen from. "No. But I don't think this tree fell on it's own." He said.

"You don't mean..." Marth's voice trailed off.

Link looked back at him. They nodded to each other and, without another word, both swordsmen took off running into the woods. Snake called after them, asking where they were going, but they didn't even look back.

"Pika!"

The yellow critter bounded after them. Where the hell were they all going? And just what were they going to find on the other end of that tree? Snake wondered if he should follow them. If this had anything to do with the veteran's pact it was none of his business. Then again, whoever, or whatever, brought down that tree almost crushed him. Snake tucked the handkerchief into his jacket pocket and followed.

He was a few yards behind them. Even the little Pokemon was farther ahead. The sound of wood breaking became louder and louder. He finally caught up to them. Both swordsmen stood rigid in their spots, looking ahead. Pikachu stood a little behind them. His ears were down and he was shaking.

"What? What is it?" Snake asked them.

Both of their hands flew to the handles of their swords. By the root of the tree, Snake saw a gigantic beast. He thought it was a monstrous bear at first because it was covered in dark fur, until, from underneath, a large human fist drew back in the air. A dark mist surrounded the hand and it sliced through a section of the sequoia without any effort. This was no bear, but a giant of a man, draped in an equally giant fur cape. Snake noticed there were neatly cut piles of redwood nearby, and what appeared to be large sections of uprooted dirt and cleared land.

The first raised in the air to strike the tree again, but suddenly it stopped. The hand lowered back into the cape, and the giant turned around to face them. The man had dark, olive-colored skin and wore a sparkling, elaborate golden headpiece that intertwined with his thick red dreadlocks. The man had a massive forehead in which rested an equally massive jewel. His eyes were sunken in and his gaze was piercing. A chill went up Snake's spine.

"You might want to watch where you fell your trees next time, dark king." Marth said sternly, "You nearly crushed us."

The giant spoke, his voice had a dangerous edge to it. "Believe me, if I were to crush you, it would be in combat."

"Why are you chopping down these trees?" Link asked the man, "You know you can't destroy property."

The giant turned around fully to face them. He looked at Link and glowered. Even from here, Snake could see the intense hate in his gaze. "You are the last person who need quote the rules to me." The man took his eyes off of Link and looked past him, directly to Snake. His mouth curved into an evil smile. The small hairs on Snake's arms and neck stood up. "Oh? What new blood did you bring here?"

Both swordsmen stole glances back at him. They looked worried. The giant walked away from the tree he was hacking and began to approach them.

"Dark king, if you-"

"Out of the way."

The giant held up his hand. A black mist erupted from his fist again. Marth and Link were suddenly enveloped in the same darkness. They were lifted high into the air, each crying out in pain. Snake watched as their bodies constricted, like they were being crushed. The giant waved his hand and the two swordsmen flew in different directions, smashing through tree branches as they went. The giant disposed of them easily.

Still shaking, the little Pokemon in front of him backed up a couple of steps before it turned around and ran away behind him. He didn't blame the little critter, there was nothing he could have done to this man. The giant stomped closer. The air started to buzz and writhe as if it couldn't stand his presence. It made Snake feel uneasy. Even panicky. His hand went down to his thigh for his SOCOM.

The giant raised his hand again and dark mist surrounded Snake's arm. It felt like someone had grabbed a hold of his wrist in a crushing vice. He couldn't move it.

"Now, now. Let's not be so hasty." The giant said.

"L-Let me go...!" Snake struggled.

"Despite what those two may have told you, I am not so bad." The evil grin the man wore suddenly faded. "What happened to your face?"

Snake remembered half of it was still smudged with black marker. He was sure he looked the farthest thing from intimidating right now. "They haven't told me anything...!" He growled at the large man, "I don't know who you are...!"

He grinned again. "Ah, how rude of me. I am Ganondorf. King of the Gerudo. What do they call you?"

"Let me go and I'll tell you...!" Snake hissed. The pressure on his arm and wrist was becoming too much.

The dark mist disappeared and his arm was released. Snake cradled it close to him. What the hell was that? His reply to the giant was hesitant. "...My name is Snake."

Ganondorf suddenly laughed. It was an evil sound. "A fitting name. Snakes are deadly creatures." He bent down and leveled his black eyes with Snake's. "You know, back in my home there is a species of desert viper who's venom is so toxic, it can melt through the leather of one's shoe and the flesh off of bones. It's hide is so tough that daggers cannot pierce it." Ganondorf grinned again, "Snakes are cold blooded, efficient killers. Just like me."

Snake didn't reply.

"...Just like you are." The man finished.

What? "I'm...nothing like you." Snake managed to respond.

Ganondorf clutched his shoulder with a massive olive-colored paw. His grip was controlling. "Oh, but you are. I can see it, plain as day. The death in your eyes. You have killed many, viper."

Another cold chill went up his back and Snake's brain started firing out flight signals like mad. This man felt evil. Pure evil. There was nothing in his eyes.

"Do you hear that?"

Hear what?

Ganondorf looked up at the trees. A curious murder of crows had gathered around in the naked branches. A few cawed loudly.

"The crows...they speak of you."

Snake's hands started to shake.

The large man looked back to him, "They say you're not...natural."

Snake tore himself away from the giant's grasp. Ganondorf let out another deep, unsettling laugh. It reverberated around the forest and scared away the crows, who flew off with loud cries.

"The Hand finds the most interesting of people." The giant mused.

Snake heard a rustling in the bushes and Marth and Link reappeared, both covered in snow and wet, dead leaves.

"Looks whose returned."

Both men came to Snake's side, their swords still drawn and pointed at the man. "Back away from him, Ganondorf!" Link warned.

"Quiet you fool." He snarled. "We were only having a nice chat." Ganondorf pointed a large finger to Snake. "I hope you will provide me with more of a challenge then these two weaklings." He looked back to the swordsmen and growled. "Take your leave from here, runts. Or I will kill you where you stand."

Ganondorf turned and walked away, back to his felled tree. He raised his fist and continued to chop the sequoia to pieces. Snake felt an immense relief.

Marth gently grabbed Snake by his bicep. "Let's go."

The three men left the giant to his business. Every loud THUNK!...THUNK!...THUNK! was unnerving. How easily he could break the wood in half. Snake was glad to get as far away from that man as possible. He had felt genuine fear, something he hadn't in a long time. Snake kept his aching arm close to him, instinctively touching his fingers to his left forearm, over a large scar hidden beneath layers of clothing.

"You smell like...yes, there's no mistake about it..."

Snake shook away that memory.

The sound of chopping wood faded away until Snake could barely hear it at all. He let go of a breathe he didn't realize he'd been holding. At last he felt safe. Marth and Link had walked him back to the trail.

"Ganondorf, that monster." Link muttered to himself.

"That guy...He wasn't human..." Snake said.

"Ganondorf possesses an evil, dark power. He is no longer human." Link replied.

"Your arm, is it alright?" Marth asked him.

Snake looked at his hand and flexed his fingers, "Yeah. It just feels sore, I think. It felt like...like he was trying to crush my arm with whatever that dark stuff was." Snake looked to the swordsmen. "What about you two? Your entire bodies were engulfed in that. He threw you into the trees."

Marth rubbed his shoulder but offered a reassuring smile. "Do not worry about us. We are accustomed to his dark magic. It will take a lot more than that to bring us down."

"I never seen him before. Where's he been all this time?" Snake asked.

"Ganondorf has apparently taken up residence in the desert beyond the plains, outside of the iron gates." Marth answered. "A friend of mine had seen that Ganon built himself a house out there. He even built his own training grounds. That must be why he was chopping down that tree, for the wood. Ganondorf has a house up on the mountain, just like the rest of us, but he doesn't stay there, much to all of our relief. The alloys won't go anywhere near him either. All of them refuse to service his needs, no matter how much Master Hand forces them to."

"The alloys won't go near him? Why?"

"Because...of what happened at the last tournament." Link slowly replied.

"What happened during the last tournament?" Snake questioned.

Both men looked at each other, then back to him. They looked like they were deciding whether or not to answer.

"Ganondorf lost during the finals," Link began, "He didn't take it well and went on a rampage. He destroyed the arena and killed a lot of the alloys, though, they were know as Wireframes back then."

Snake's eyes went wide. "He killed them?"

Marth picked up the rest of the story, "He also tried to forcibly kidnap another one of the competitors. But Master Hand was able to stop him. He defeated Ganondorf easily and sent him far away from the island."

"Who did he try to kidnap?"

But the men wouldn't answer. Marth shook his head and Link looked to the ground, clenching his fists. Snake remembered the meeting he had with Master Hand, back when he'd first arrived. Where he signed his useless contract. Master Hand mentioned he'd kicked one of the competitors off the island before. So, it was Ganondorf?

"If that man killed the Hand's own alloys, destroyed his arena, and terrorized one of the competitors, why would be allow that guy back?" Snake growled.

"We don't understand that either." responded Marth.

It was Snake's turn to shake his head. The House Rules said people would get kicked out for huge offenses, and murder was just as bad as it can get. Why would Master Hand invite him to compete again, knowing he could possibly do the same thing if he lost a second time?

Snake thought about the Super Dome, just the sheer size of it. Ganondorf nearly destroyed the whole thing, and killed many alloys, or whatever Link said they were called back then. It had to be a total catastrophe.

"That competitor he tried to take. Did they return this year?" Snake asked.

Again, both men looked at each other. They did not answer. So, they did return.

The dreary atmosphere was interrupted by Snake, who felt something wiggling on his back. It ticked immensely and he made a weird noise. He started to dance around, trying to reach behind him, "What the-what's on my back?"

Link went over to him and lifted the back of his jacket. "Oh, it's Pikachu." He said. Snake felt a small weight lift from his back. He turned around to see Link holding the nervous-looking animal in his arms. "That's where you went to. I'm glad you're safe."

"Pika...pi..." The Pokemon chittered wearily. Link scratched his head. Guess when Pikachu ran off, he had scurried up Snake's back and hid underneath his jacket. Snake hadn't even noticed.

"Well, aside from what just transpired, it was nice meeting you Snake." Link smiled, his big goofy grin on his face again.

Marth joined them. "Yes, I certainly hope we can become good friends in the future." The king gave him a small smile of his own. He then waved a hand, "And please, do be more careful the next time you're out here, especially if you run into Jigglypuff."

Snake lowered his eyebrows at the man. Jigglypuff? She was probably the least dangerous thing out here. With that evil man lurking about, chopping down hundred foot trees with his bare hands. And that supposed gorilla Link said was somewhere out here too. Falling asleep and getting your face drawn on was nothing. "Yeah...I was actually warned about her before I came out here. But when I saw her, she was so small and friendly, I didn't think she could be dangerous. She wasn't, but I should've listened to Falcon."

"Experience breeds caution." Marth said.

"Right." Snake smirked. "It was nice to meet you both too."

"Pika!"

Snake looked at the Pokemon in Link's arms. It had stopped it's shaking and it's ears were straight up again. It was looking at Snake.

"You too, even though you left me with Jigglypuff." He joked to the animal.

"Pi?"

"Actually, it was because of Pikachu that we found you. He led us right to you." Marth offered.

"Really?" Snake looked back to the animal. Eventually, he pat him on the head. "...Thanks, I guess."

Pikachu purred happily. "Chuu..."

Snake and the two swordsmen waved goodbye to each other and parted ways on the trail. Snake wondered what they were doing all the way out there in the first place. It was far from town and they didn't looked dressed for a run either. He wondered if they had they had been trying to track Ganondorf. To keep an eye on him. Or was it possible they were out there to meet him? Falcon did know he'd be out there, Snake had told him so. Had that been another attempt to gauge him? Snake wasn't sure but...he was thankful the were there. If they hadn't woken him up from his slumber, he could have been crushed by that tree.

So, the veterans plot against the bad guys to block them from winning, and in return, the bad guys attack them out in the open, outside of the Ring when no one is around. Sounds fair enough.

Snake continued on the long trail back into town, though he walked the rest of the way. That whole ordeal took all of the energy out of him. All he wanted to do was go home.

The alloy at the front desk in the gym seem to stare at Snake when he returned to pick up his gym bag. His face was still smudged with black marker and his clothes were wet and covered in mud stains. He was still cradling his right arm. The alloy hesitantly asked how his run went, to which he replied dryly, "Eventful." Snake did his best to try and scrub off some of the black marker in a bathroom sink before he retrieved his bag and left.

God, he needed a nap.

 

Chapter Text

The day had finally arrived. Month 2, day 16. The starting day of the tournament.

Master Hand had thrown a huge celebration in the port town the night before, with fireworks exploding over the Dome and the ocean. Even from all the way in his apartment, Snake could hear the thunderous booms. Every alloy in town had left to attend the celebration, all the other competitors too. Snake didn't go. He didn't really see a reason to.

Falcon had stopped by his apartment to ask if he was going to attend the opening ceremony. But Snake waved the man off, saying crowds weren't really his thing. Falcon tried to convince him, saying he'd introduce him to all of his friends, including the woman Samus again. Snake knew what his real intentions were. He was not a threat which meant he was a potential ally to their group. He wondered if they would try and recruit him there? He thought about the evil man in the forest, hacking down the fully grown redwoods as if they were butter. How those two swordsmen, Marth and Link, said he'd went berserk, killed the workers and held one of the other competitors hostage when he didn't win.

Snake still refused. He wasn't going to get caught up with their schemes. That night, Snake received an email that gave the date and time of his very first match. It was scheduled for 11AM the very next day. His match was third on the docket.

Snake went into his closet and pulled out a gym bag he'd had stored in one of the wall-cubbies. He unzipped the bag and re-checked the contents. All the pieces to his gray-colored sneaking suit were still there. The last time he opened this bag was when he'd left home. He decided to change at the stadium.

The email said his first match was scheduled to be a four-way "Free For All," which meant every man for themselves. The stipulation of whether it would be a timed or stocked match would be decided later. His opponents were going be King Marth, one of the "bad guys" the veterans considered a threat, Wolf, and that scaly crybaby Bowser. He hadn't seen Bowser since the day he met Ness and the other kids, and give him a hopefully swollen nose. Bowser had declared he would make Snake pay when the tournament started.

His Codec started ringing then. He picked up.

"Good morning Snake. Today's the big day. Are you nervous?"

Snake had called Otacon the night before, informing his friend that he'd finally received a date and time of his first match. "A little." He lied.

"I've got the TV on and I'm watching the first match right now. This tournament is crazy! Are you watching it too?"

"No. I'm getting my stuff together. A shuttle will be here any minute to pick me up and take me to the Dome."

"Oh, that's right." The engineer's voice was almost hysterical. "Snake, this isn't just an ol' run-of-the-mill tournament! The competitors are being transported to different places! There's people fighting on top of a huge spaceship right now! It's flying through space! How can they even breathe out there?"

"Space? Whose fighting?"

"Uuh, let's see...the screen says it's one of the Mario brothers. Some kid who's using some kind of strange animals to fight, that pink thing you said knocked you out in the woods and a giant gorilla."

"A kid?"

Otacon corrected himself. "He's more like a teenager. He's commanding a dragon! An actual dragon! Well...at least I think he is, he actually looks pretty frustrated right now."

Snake stopped what he was doing. "A...dragon?"

"Yeah! It's a little chubby. Not a very big dragon. But still, I can't believe I'm seeing one with my own eyes!"

There it was, the mythological creature they were missing. Snake just laughed to himself.

"What? What's so funny?"

"Er, nothing." Snake zipped up the gym bag and took it inside with him. "Well, that blue alloy did say one of the Grids transports the contestants to different places."

"But to actually see it...it's...wow." Otacon seemed distracted by the TV. "Where do you think you'll go during your match?"

Snake shrugged. "Don't know. I think Bixx said the location of a match is decided at random on the spot. Doesn't the Encyclopedia say anything about it?"

"I've already scoured it this morning and it's...still not completed. Though it has a new section about 'Stages,' as they're called. The places that competitors will fight. Unfortunately that's the part that's incompleted."

"Still?"

"It has about forty-one slots here and I can only read about eleven of the stages right now. But, the profiles on all thirty-five competitors are completed. Including yours."

Snake stiffened. "What does it say about me?"

"Uh, hold on." Snake heard mouse clicks in his ear. "Here you are. Solid Snake." Otacon said, with a dramatic inflection in his voice. Snake rolled his eyes. "Your profile says you were a former member of the elite special forces unit FOXHOUND. You've undergone years of specialized training and have a mastery of six languages. It also says you've saved the world three times from the threat of Metal Gears, quote un-quote, 'exploits which have made you legendary in the field of black ops.'"

Snake groaned but felt relieved. "That's all?"

"It also says that as part of the anti-Metal Gear group 'Philanthropy,' you're currently working to purge the world of the biggest underground network of war-profiteering known to your home, the Patriots. And that's all."

"Good. No one needs to know anything else about me."

"Some of them have been updated too, including that woman Samus Aran." Snake listened intently. "It's got a photo of her now without the powersuit. I can see why you've been secretly fawning over her. She's pretty."

"Pretty doesn't do her justice." Snake smirked. He had Otacon search up her profile a while back. Samus Aran was an intergalactic bounty hunter who took contract work from her Galactic Federation, the system of government in her time that over sees her Earth and several other planets in her solar system and neighboring ones. She also has a long-running feud with a group of menaces called the 'Space Pirates.' She was orphaned as a child and was taken in by an alien race, under whom put her through rigorous training and gifted her a powersuit. She also spent some time in the Galactic Federation military. Snake was curious to know what branch she was in.

"Don't lose focus Snake, you know you really have a weakness to- Hey! No. Cheif, get down." Snake tilted his head as he heard a familiar annoyed howling from his codec. "Not on the couch."  Snake heard Chief groan and yip loudly. His friend griped, "Oh fine! Stay there! I can't wait until you get back Snake. Your dog is a stubborn pain. She reminds me of you!"

"You know what they say about dogs and their owners." Snake chuckled.

There was a knock at the door.

"Gotta go, I think my ride's here. I'll call you after the match is done."

"Good luck. We'll be rooting for you."

Both men signed off. Snake shouldered his gym bag and opened his front door to find an alloy waiting on his porch.

"Are you ready to go Mr. Snake?" It asked. The alloy motioned to a gray shuttle parked in the road in front of his apartment. He nodded, reiterating to just call him Snake.

"You are the last pick up, so that means our next stop is the Dome." The alloy said. Snake locked up his apartment before he followed the alloy to the vehicle. Snake waited as the door to the shuttle hissed open. His nostrils were suddenly hit with a strong, foul odor that wafted out from inside. He pinched his nose shut and took a step back, groaning in disgust.

What the hell was that stench? Is there a decomposing body in there? Snake turned to ask the alloy if he was sure he was driving a transport shuttle and not a dump truck, but the alloy had already walked away.

Snake reluctantly stepped inside. The first thing he saw was Marth and the yellow critter Pikachu pushed up against the very end of the seats. Marth was pinching his nose closed, a look of physical pain on his face. Pikachu was covering his nose with both paws and turning an ugly shade of green. Marth looked up at him and pointed towards the other end of the cabin where Snake spotted the source of the grotesque smell - a fat, mustachioed man sitting on the other end of the shuttle. His legs were so short they were propped up on the seat with him. His chubby pinky was knuckle deep in a discolored nostril.

"Close the door already! You're letting all the stink out!" The fat man said. He let out an obnoxious chuckle.

Snake grimaced and fanned the air. "Hey, why don't you do us all a favor and strap yourself to the roof next time?" He growled.

The fat man just laughed again. "I would never dream of denying an audience of my stench!"

Snake sat as close to the door as possible, gulping in as much fresh air as he could until the door shut. Now they were all sealed inside with the putrid man for the fifteen minute ride it would take to reach the Dome. Snake pulled his shirt and trench coat over his nose and breathed through his mouth, though he was sure even breathing in the fumes would certainly kill him.

"Who the hell is this clown?" Snake growled to Marth.

"His name is Wario. I take it you've never met him?" Marth replied, his voice nasally.

"I think I would remember smelling rancid dumpster mixed with reactor meltdown." Snake griped. "Why did the alloy allow him in here?"

"Alloys have no sense of smell." Marth replied. Snake groaned again. Wario just laughed, a loud, grating sound. He remembered the name. Wario was one of the competitors that the veterans planned to block from winning.

Pikachu jumped down from his spot next to Marth and lept up onto Snake's lap. The pokemon dug himself between Snake and his gym bag. It let out a miserable sounding, "Pi... pi..."

Poor animal, unlike Marth and himself, Pikachu had nothing to cover his probably very sensitive nose with. Snake got an idea. He unzipped his gym bag, intending to retrieve his bandanna to try and tie it around the pokemon's nose, if it'd let him. But as soon as the zipper was fully opened, Pikachu dived into the bag and buried himself among Snake's suit.

"Hey."

"Pika pi!"

Guess this solution was better. Snake shrugged and zipped the bag shut. Pikachu let out a relieved sounding, "Chuu..." He hoped his suit smelled better.


The shuttle finally arrived at the Dome. The doors barely opened before Snake and Marth dived out. They both drank in the clean outside air like it was water. Snake had a headache. He was sure the smell was attached to his jacket.

Wario came strolling out of the shuttle, apparently unaffected and unashamed by his disgusting smell. He just laughed that annoying laugh. A cart was waiting to drive them all to the Dome. Snake and Marth refused to ride with the grotesque little man and hopped onto another.

"What a horrid man." The King sighed, sitting down in his seat.

Snake sat in the seat next to him. "If I have to ride with him again, I'm walking back."

The cart drove off. It zoomed through the towering entrance of the Dome. Snake could feel heat blasting on them from giant heaters on the ceiling. It felt great. The alloy stopped the cart where the halls branched off between the Fighter's Bay and the Locker Rooms.

"Do any of you need to change?" The driver asked.

"I do." Snake answered.

"Then I'll get off here." Marth said. He stepped off the cart, taking a moment to adjust the huge sword strapped to his back. Snake's gym bag starting wiggling in his lap. He forgotten Pikachu was inside. He drew back the zipper and the critter popped it's head out. He chittered, sounding relieved, taking a moment to clean his face. The pokemon hopped out of the bag and onto the seat Marth had been sitting in, then lept up onto the King's shoulder. Pikachu looked back at Snake and waved his little paw. "Chu! Chu!"

Snake felt that stirring in his chest again.

Marth patted the pokemon's head. "See you inside the Dome, Snake. I look forward to our first match."

"Yeah. Me too."

The alloy dropped him off at the Locker room. The driver asked if he would like the cart to wait until he was finished dressing, so it could drive him back to the Bay, but Snake declined. He was fine walking back.

Alone in there, Snake pulled on the gray sneak suit. He had not worn this suit since the mission at Big Shell nearly a year ago. He was glad he went with this suit over the other one, as it was much easier to move around in. He tightened all the straps and buckled every belt. He noticed there were some yellow hairs on the vest. Probably from Pikachu. He brushed them off.

Lastly, Snake tied his bandanna tight around his forehead. He had an intense stare down with himself in the mirror. The feeling of nervousness grew. It was time now. Time to start the long journey to curing himself, to removing FOXDIE and the nanomachines. He had to remember all the people who were counting on him back home. He smacked his fist into his palm. He was ready.


He'd been in the Fighters Bay once before, but it seemed like a whole different place today. There were no open boxes with equipment spilling out, no cables running all over the floor and no flickering TVs. All the plastic had been taken off the leather and suede-looking furniture in the carpeted areas. They were now arranged in conversation circles with stained wood coffee tables. Bright chandeliers hung above them. All the screens anchored to the walls were on and displayed the match currently underway. Snake smelled food. Along one wall was a built-in food stand, two alloys wearing aprons and chefs hats were cooking on a grill. There were rotating displays with donuts and premade breakfast sandwiches inside. His stomach grumbled.

Along the other wall, there were a few vehicles parked single file, colored blue and white with a red cross on the side. An emergency team on stand by.

There were other competitors here too, ones who had matches today and the one's whose matches were already finished. He didn't recognize most of them. A small group of people were sitting on the couches. Snake spotted Marth shooting the breeze with two short, mustachioed men. Pikachu was gone from his shoulder. He saw the yellow critter happily babbling with another strange looking animal. It looked like a tiny dinosaur and had a giant pink flower bud on it's back. They were joined by an equally tiny turtle that walked upright on two legs. They all chittered noisily. A teenage boy in a red vest and hat bent down and pet all of these strange creatures. Snake wondered who the kid was.

Off in the distance he saw an anthropomorph standing in front of the TVs, watching the match intently. They had their back turned to everyone. Their ears were straight up on their head and their gray tail was swishing side to side lazily. He also saw the gross little man Wario, loafing on a couch, still digging in his nose. No one was anywhere near him.

Snake walked up to the giant glass archways that overlooked the stadium. He was unable to see through them as they were completely blacked out. He didn't understand. The stage and audience should have been visible. Did the alloys put screens over the windows?

"Yo! Snake!"

Snake turned around. A man dressed in a flashy blue suit and yellow ascot approached him. He wore a red helmet with a golden bird crest that was polished to a high sheen, a black visor obscured his eyes. He recognized the man's voice.

"Falcon?"

The man offered him a thumbs up. "The one and only."

Snake examined his outfit. "Nice suit."

"Thanks. Your's is...interesting." Falcon put a hand to his chin, "Looks like a specialized suit. Never seen one like that before."

Snake tugged at a strap around his shoulder. "Bulky plated armor isn't the best for sneaking around. You need something light and fitting. Nothing that drags or makes noise."

"Ah, that's right. Special Ops." Falcon said, snapping a finger to him.

"That your racing outfit?"

The man grinned and offered him a two fingered salute. "Very astute! I have a brand to retain. Captain Falcon is pretty well known at home, you know."

"You got people watching back home?"

"That and the tournament is broadcast all over the universe. Anyone with a strong enough interstellar receiver can watch it. Don't you have people watching at home too?"

Broadcasted all over the universe? Snake nodded. "Yeah I do."

"It's a shame you didn't go to the opening ceremony last night. It was pretty elaborate. There was a huge parade and Master Hand showed off all the new stages inside the Dome. Everyone was there, I think every single alloy on the island too." Falcon said.

Snake shrugged. "What can I say. I don't like crowds."

Falcon just nodded. "Your match up next?"

"Think so. The schedule said my match was at 11am. You had yours yet?"

"Not yet. I believe my match is right after your's actually." Falcon gave him another award winning grin. "I look forward to your first match, newbie."

Snake had a feeling he actually meant, 'I look forward to seeing your fighting style first.' It was a little too early for Falcon to feel like he has an advantage. Snake always prided himself on surprising his opponents.

He glanced to a nearby TV screen on the wall. The match that was still going was timed with two minutes left. It was a four way Free-For-All on a grassy stage with strange looped hills in the background. The contestants were Kirby, an odd-looking robot, a blonde woman dressed in a frilly pink dress and a little green...dinosaur? Their names were displayed on the bottom of the screen, along with their percent of damage. It didn't take much to put two and two together on which name belonged to who. He already knew who Kirby was. The woman obviously had to be Princess Peach, the actual Princess Peach. He remembered Otacon said her favorite color was pink. Boy was he right. The other two had to be Yoshi and R.O.B. Was the robot's name R.O.B? Snake also remembered Falcon mention Yoshi before. The little green dino...thing launched out a long, chameleon-like tongue that attached to Kirby and it swallowed the pink blob whole. Snake watched, wondering how the little dinosaur could stretch his cheeks that wide. Seconds later it swallowed the big lump and dropped out a huge egg. Snake gagged.

"Do you know why the windows are black?" He asked Falcon.

"They're black because of the match that's going on. It's the Projectors." Falcon replied.

"Projectors?"

"Yeah. They're these floating contraptions with lenses on 'em that float around the arena. They transform the whole place completely, even the stage changes." Falcon pointed to the TV. Snake looked at the green hilly place the competitors were fighting at. Even in the background there were blue skies, clouds and birds soaring. "No one knows how they actually work. Some of us think it's all an illusion, that none of it's real, just in our minds. Others say the projectors turn people into digital code and put them into some kind of computer simulation, since Master Hand relies so heavily on technology. Which makes sense. The rest of us speculate that he actually transports everybody to another dimension. Except for the audience of course. Master Hand is very much capable of that."

"What do you believe?" Snake asked.

Falcon shrugged. "I can tell you, I don't think it's an illusion. The ground, the weather, the hazards. They are all absolutely real."

Clank. Clank. Clank.

Heavy footsteps immediately grabbed Snake's attention, tearing him from Falcon's revelation. He turned towards the source of the noise. Walking into the Fighter's Bay was a dull colored yellow, red and orange robot. It had massive shoulder plates and a curiously thin waist. The robot's entire left arm was a teal colored cannon.

Snake leered. The way the mech walked intrigued him. He could barely see it, but it definitely had a very small sway to it's thin hips. He'd seen this walk before.

"Samus...?" He mumbled.

Falcon turned around to where Snake was looking. "Ah, you've seen her in her suit before?"

"No."

"Huh? Then...how did you know it was her?"

Snake sniffed. "Just a hunch."

"That's some hunch." Falcon laughed lightly, "You really are the real deal, special ops."

Snake grunted a response back. Falcon had no idea.

The racer waved at Samus. "Hey! Over here."

Samus changed her direction after stopping briefly to examine a TV screen, and stomped over towards them.

"Hello Captain, good morning. Ready for our match later?" She asked. Her voice was muffled though her helmet.

Falcon held up a fist. "Of course. It been quite a while since we fought, my friend. I hope you've picked up some new tricks while you were away."

"As I'm sure you have." Her red helmet turned in his direction. "Good morning to you, Solid Snake."

"Nice suit." He repeated. She, or rather the suit, was huge. She was well over six feet tall in that thing. He had to look up at her green colored viser. He could barely see her almond shaped eyes through it. He thought about the beauty mark below her lips. "That what you wear when you go bounty hunting?"

She held up her cannon, almost proudly. "Of course. I travel to many dangerous places. I have to have the right equipment or else I don't make it home."

Snake nodded. Up close he could see all kinds of dings, dents, scratches and chips all over the entire suit. Some parts looked less banged up and newer than others. Those had been replaced recently. Snake wondered if she replaced them herself.

"So, uh, how's your jaw?" She asked suddenly.

He brushed his knuckles against his beard. "Alright."

"That's good. I'm still sorry about what happened. I really didn't mean to hit you." She apologized. Snake wondered about that. He pretended to wave her off.

"Don't worry about it."

"YOU!"

There was a loud commotion in the Bay. Snake, Falcon and Samus all turned around to see the koopa king Bowser angrily stomping his way to them.

"Outta my way chumps!" He growled, pushing an alloy aside and knocking down one of the mustachioed men Snake saw Marth chatting with earlier. His green hat flew off of his head and his frosted donut flew out of his hand, landing icing-down on the floor. Snake could see Samus and Falcon tense up; Samus put an arm on her massive cannon. Bowser ignored them both and marched right up to Snake.

"Well well, if it isn't the Chicken King." Snake taunted.

"Chicken King?" Falcon repeated.

Bowser growled angrily. "I told you my name is Bowser, Scruffy!" The monster breathed his foul breath in Snake's face. He tried not to flinch.

"How's your nose? Been icing it well I see. You can barely see the bruise on that big honker." He smirked, poking Bowser in his bulbous snout. Samus made a weird noise and her helmet tipped down slightly.

Bowser growled again. "Let's see how confident you'll be in our match next! You're gonna pay for punching me in the nose!"

Snake growled back at him, curling his fists. A few alloys began to walk their way, asking if there was a problem. Bowser just huffed and stomped away, yelling at them to move aside. He walked past the green clad man, who'd picked up his donut off the floor and was lamenting over it. Bowser knocked him down again.

"Well, that was intense. What the hell happened between you two? And why did you call him Chicken King?" Falcon asked.

"Because reptiles evolved from birds." Samus answered.

Snake pointed a finger at her. "Bingo."

A loud alarm blared throughout the Bay. Snake looked back to the TV to see that the match had concluded - the winner was Kirby.

The blackness in front of the giant archways began to disappear. The Bay became brighter with the light that flooded in from the stadium. The first time Snake saw the arena all the seats were empty, and now, there was not a vacant chair anywhere. There were thousands and thousands of shiny alloys, and other curious looking creatures, in the crowd. The colorful audience swayed with excitement and chanted indiscernible words.

The glass archways opened, parting slowly. Four caddies floated out into the stadium, each carrying an alloy. They were going to pick up the contestants from the stage.

Falcon tapped his shoulder. Snake looked at him and he pointed to an alloy that had been beckoning for his attention. "Over here Mr. Snake!" It called.

"Looks like it's time for your match newbie. Good luck!" Falcon clapped him on the shoulder. Samus nodded at him.

"Thanks. Later." He waved lazily at them over his shoulder.

He walked to the alloy who was waiting in front of one of the open archways. He was starting to feel a bit excited. The alloy tapped a few times on the tablet it held in it's orb-hands. The caddies returned to the Bay, the glass windows closing behind them and the audience's cheering dulling again. Kirby hopped out of his caddie and pranced around happily. The kid Link did mention that Kirby may have been a baby of his species. He was incredibly strong for only being a child.

Kirby danced right into the green dinosaur Yoshi, who, despite his round and cute-looking face, growled angrily at him and started to chase Kirby around. The poor pink blob cried out in terror and the two ran around and around until Yoshi was swatted on the head by the pink-clad Princess. She gave him a disapproving look and the little green dinosaur turned back into the cute creature he looked like he should be. What was that all about?

Bowser came stomping over. Marth stood in front of his archway. The King too asked Snake if he was ready for their match. The lone anthromorph who was standing by themselves walked up to an archway too. Snake saw an eyepatch over the canines's left eye. This had to be Wolf. Marth stood next to Snake, Wolf was on his other side and Bowser was at the very end. Marth and Wolf spoke to their attending alloys while Bowser was busy glaring at him. The koopa barked his response to his alloy when they badgered him for a reply.

"Are you ready? Is there anything else you need to do before the match starts Mr. Snake?" His yellow alloy asked him, "Do you need a quick bathroom break? Or a drink?" Snake shook his head. The alloy looked over their shoulder and called aloud, "Number two, ready!"

There was a set of lights above the wall of his archway. The light on the end lit up green. The other attending alloys announced their fighter's readiness as well, calling out their dock numbers. Their lights turned green too. A loud voice blasted from a speaker somewhere in the Bay. "BEGIN ARENA ROULETTE."

Snake looked to one of the TV screens anchored between the arches. Images flashed by quickly, the Dome's Grid system was selecting a stage at random. The announcer outside was screaming something in his booming voice, exciting the crowd, but Snake paid no attention. The roulette stopped, the stage was selected. It was a city. The most mega-duplexed, smog and crime infested city Snake could have ever imagined. The stage was called New Pork City. He raised an eyebrow at the name.

Another notification came up on the screen. The word TIMED and a five minute counter. Their match would only last five minutes? Whoever had the most points at the end would be the winner.

The speaker blared again. "BEGIN BOARDING."

The alloy waved a hand to the caddie waiting in front of him. Snake stepped onto it nervously, taking a hold of the thin railing. Why did they have this thing attached right on the edge? The announcer called out their arrival. The glass arches began to part again and the caddies detached from the floor and floated out into the Dome.

The roaring and chanting of the crowd filled his ears. The bright lights on the Dome's ceiling glinted off the alloys in the crowd which blinded him a little. Snake saw the other three caddies carrying Marth, Wolf and Bowser floating along side him. Marth was waving to the crowd in his practiced, royal way. Wolf had his arms crossed over his chest but was looking around. Bowser however, was showboating, roaring loudly and flexing his big biceps. Snake could see Bowser's attending alloy was smushed up against the railing and was angrily pushing against the monster's big spiked shell. Snake shook his head. Poor thing.

The caddies floated to the stage, a gray-colored and very plain-looking platform, complete with two more, smaller platforms floating in the air above it. A literal blank slate, Snake thought. He caught sight of the numerous catcher rings circling around.

Snake was dropped off at one of the top platforms. Marth was across from him and Wolf and Bowser were on the bottom level. The crowd started to chant something he couldn't make out. Snake could see a gigantic jumbotron on the other end of the stadium, above the glass archways. Other screens around the jumbotron depicted their images with numerals on the bottom. All of the numbers were at zero. What were those numbers for? Snake looked at the screen with his own image from the chest up. He looked tough and intimidating, as he should. But...when did they take that picture? He was wearing the gray suit in it. He'd never put it on until today.

Above the jumbotron were three thin, glass windows. That must be the Computer Room, where that onry blue alloy Bixx showed Snake and Ike all of their digital inventory.

The announcer declared the match was going to start. More machines Snake had never seen before floated up from below. They were big and clunky-looking with a single odd-shaped lens. Those must be the projectors Falcon was talking about. There were lots of them. They all hummed loudly and floated at different heights and angles. Snake knew what was coming next.

Black fog started to emit from the boxy machines. It spread out quickly, mingling with the fog emitted by other projectors until it surrounded their gray platform entirely. The crowds disappeared, their cheering faded away as did all the light from the stadium. Everything went pitch black. Snake couldn't see his hand in front of him.

There was a sudden rumbling. Out in the distance dozens and dozens of skyscrapers shot upwards from the darkness. The lights from their numerous windows lit up the pitch blackness and he could see again. All the buildings were packed together tightly like sardines in a can.

Snake's platform abruptly rose higher, startling him. It grew in size and the surface changed from metal into loose asphalt. Pipes, electrical boxes, vents and fans sprung from the rocks. The edges of his new platform raised and morphed into brick. It appeared he was now standing on the rooftop of a building. He pushed the rocks around with his boot.

"And the rest of us speculate that he transports everybody to another dimension. Master Hand is very much capable of that." Falcon truly wasn't kidding. Even the air smelled different. Gross, like an overcrowded city. The Grid was now in place.

More platforms conjured on the other side of his roof, above Marth, who was now standing on a concrete roof of another, much wider building. The platforms were held up by nothing and floated in the air. Between Snake and Marth's respective spots sprouted an odd Gondola-type pendulum ride. It swung back and forth eerily, also suspended by nothing. Snake stepped forward to look over the edge of his rooftop. There was another area far down below, where he could see Wolf standing on a wooden bridge looking up at him. He couldn't see Bowser.

A small light emitted from his arm. Snake looked at his forearm to see a "0%" in glowing blue numerals. Was this the Damage Percentage counter?

Another small machine rose from the depths of the darkness below. It looked like a floating traffic light. The top bulb flashed red, emitting a loud, deep tone. The second light in the middle flashed yellow, emitted an equally loud but lighter sounding tone. And finally, with a screeching blare, the last light turned green.

Snake looked across his rooftop, to the other platform where Marth was standing and saw that the blue haired king had disappeared. He looked up in time to see Marth flying down towards him, his sword raised above his head. Snake jumped back and Marth drove the sword into the spot Snake was standing a second ago.

He's fast!

Marth recovered quickly and lunged at him, taking a few more swings. Snake managed to sidestepped them all, though just barely. He rolled out of the way of a fully powered side swing. There was a loud whistle. Snake got to his feet. Marth readied his sword again but did not charge.

"Your speed is impressive." Marth said.

"I've got experience with sword wielders." Snake replied.

They both shouldn't have forgotten there were two other competitors in the match, for a huge body came slamming down from above with gigantic force. The last thing Snake saw was Bowser's yellowed spiked shell before he was sent flying backward and over the edge of the rooftop.

Snake fell down, all the way down, and crashed onto the wooden bridge below with a loud thud. He heard the sound of cracking wood. Snake rolled over and groaned, feeling a small pain in his back. What was it Master Hand said about the Grid preventing pain? Or was it just serious injury? Sitting up slowly, Snake saw the glowing numerals on his forearm now read "15%."

He growled in annoyance. That damn monster dealt him some damage with that body slam of his. Snake got to his feet and looked above. It appeared he had fallen into the gully where he saw Wolf earlier.

He heard a deep growling behind him. Snake looked back, expecting to see Wolf. Instead, in a darkened corner, he saw two glowing orbs and a glint of teeth before a huge creature came rushing forth.

"Shit!"

Snake dived to the side and the creature slammed into the wall. Snake crawled away from it. After h'ed gained enough distance, he looked back. It creature was colored pink, with ridiculously short legs and comically tiny bat wings on it's back. It turned around to face him. It's beady little eyes exaggerated the gaping wide mouth filled with rows and rows of sharp teeth. This creature was terrifying, no matter was color it was. What the hell was this thing?!

It charged again, running fast on it's tiny legs. Snake turned around and ran. He didn't have time for this, he was already fighting three other people, why did he have to fight this thing as well? And where the hell did it even come from?!

Snake came to an abrupt halt, the floor suddenly dropped off in front of him. He teetered on the edge for a second. Below was a smaller, lower platform and a dark abyss beyond that. Snake glanced up. There was no where to go. Not even up. The ledge of the platform above was too high, he doubted the Grid's 'double jump' ability could save him. He looked back. The pink beast was right on him. He didn't have any time to think. Snake jumped down, clinging to the ledge by his fingers. The pink creature soared right over him and crashed landed on the other floating platform below. Snake pulled himself back up as the creature recovered.

He doubted he'd trapped the monster on that tiny platform and was sure it would be after him again. Snake was stuck and the only way out was the ledge above the wooden bridge he'd landed on earlier. How did Wolf and Bowser get out? Snake looked at the cracked bridge and got an idea.

He started for the wooden platform, hearing the monster let out an angry roar behind him. He remembered the alloy Bixx's words, just envision what he wanted and the Grid will make it appear. He held out a hand. Another roar, it sounded closer this time. Snake reached the wooden platform when-

WHAM!

Bowser came slamming down from above again. The bridge splintered some more. Bowser glared at Snake and pointed a claw to him. "Trying to run away are you, Scuffy!?"

Snake tossed something at him. Bowser didn't react fast enough and the small object hit him in the face. Bowser looked down at the grenade on the floor in front of him, the pin pulled.

"Thanks for the leg up!" Snake called. He jumped, planting a boot on the top of Bowser's red Mohawk and used his head to launch off of. The pink creature's roar and Bowser cry of surprise were both cut off by the giant explosion that followed afterward. The blast propelled him upwards and Snake landed hard on the next level of the stage.

He slowly sat up, congratulating himself on his cleverness and rubbing his hip. Two birds with one stone. Hopefully that was enough to K.O. Bowser. The counter on his arm now read "28%." He'd taken some damage from that blast.

Someone else dropped down from above. It was Wolf. "That was clever." He said, smirking to reveal a full set of pointed teeth.

Snake stood. "You're Wolf, I presume?"

"You've heard of me?"

"Not at all, I just put two and two together. What're your siblings names? Lupus and Canis?" Snake jabbed.

The anthomorph gave him a grim stare. Snake had made him angry, surely. But then Wolf let out a little laugh. He charged. Wolf swiped at Snake with his clawed hands. Snake deftly dodged his attacks at first then Wolf struck him once, then again. Snake grabbed hold of Wolf's arm. He elbowed the canine in the face, then in the gut. Snake tripped his legs out from under him and tossed Wolf over his shoulder.

Wolf rolled on the floor but got up quickly. He swiped his nose and laughed. "Whoa-oh! You're military."

"I'm flattered you noticed." Snake responded.

"This is gonna be fun." Wolf readied his claws again and stood in an open stance. Snake charged this time.

WHUMP! Bowser came crashing down again. Snake and Wolf were both knocked back and off of their feet.

"Back up dog breathe! This one is mine!" Bowser growled at Wolf.

"Last I checked, this is a Free-For-All." Wolf growled back, getting to his feet.

"Exactly! He is free for me to beat!"

"That's not the definition of Free-For-All, dumbass!"

Bowser breathed fire at him. Wolf escaped by jumping onto the platforms above. Bowser turned to Snake. "That was a dirty trick!"

"That's ironic, coming from you." Snake replied.

Bowser angrily blew flames at him too. Snake crossed his arms and brought up his shield. Bowser's fire bounced right off of it. The shield incased him completely in a semi-opaque bubble, and it was-

"Pink?" He grumbled loudly to himself. "You gotta be kidding me!"

Bowser stopped his fire breathing, only momentarily to catch his breath, before he started bellowing fire again. Snake then noticed that his shield was beginning to shrink. Bowser was damaging it. He had to come up with a plan and fast. When Bowser stopped to breath again, he'd counter with another of his allotted weapons.

Bowser stopped to take another breathe. Snake dropped his shield. He held a hand behind him, thinking of the Rocket Launcher from his profile, envisioning it in his hand-

CRASH!

A wooden crate fell from the sky and smashed Bowser right over the head, breaking into a dozen pieces. All kinds of objects came flying out of the crate and littered the ground. Snake watched a blue lazer sword skid past him across the floor. The koopa's eyes rolled into the back of his head and he stumbled, babbling incoherently.

Snake looked up. Where the hell did that wooden crate come from? Wolf laughed from atop his high platform.

Bowser was dazed. Now is his chance!

Snake put out his hand again when he heard a loud whistle. Marth came flying past him. Snake didn't have the time to react. Luckily the King aimed a fully-powered swing at Bowser. He knocked the monster clear across the rooftop with ease. He stood up regally and swiped hair from his eyes.

"If you keep your attention on one target, you will surely loose." The King taunted, pointing his sword in Bowser's direction. Marth was going to prevent Bowser from winning. The blue-haired King readied his sword and went after Bowser again. The monster couldn't even block. He flew right off the edge.

Snake didn't have time to revel in the koopa's defeat for Marth immediately turned on him next. Snake dodged the first two swings but Marth struck him and knocked him to the floor. The numerals on his arm rose higher. Snake snatched up the blue laser sword that skidded past him and got back to his feet. He wasn't an experienced sword-fighter but he was able to block a few powerful strikes from Marth.

"Hey! Don't leave me out of the fun!"

Wolf threw himself on the both of them. He planted a boot straight in Snake's face. The sword flew out of his hand. Wolf turned on Marth. The king dodged his fists until Wolf kicked at his shins and tripped him. There was a loud angry roar and Bowser came flying back into the mix. Apparently he hadn't fallen off the stage to his demise.

"You two chumps are in the way!" He growled.

Bowser swung at Wolf. Marth swung his sword and Bowser punched it away. Snake got to his feet. He saw that everyone was lined up perfectly. There came a massive weight in his hand. He smirked and swung around a heavy rocket launcher on his shoulder, a rocket already loaded into the barrel.

"Open up you overgrown chicken!" He called out to Bowser and fired.

But Bowser saw his plan. The koopa grabbed Marth by his head and threw him at Snake.

"Don't think so!"

The rocket struck Marth instead. The explosion sent both of them flying. Snake's body rocketed through the air. There was an intense and painful ringing in his ears. The whole world spun around him as he flew down into the black abyss. He could do nothing but flail his arms and legs. The last thing he saw was a blue flash and his entire body felt a strange tingling sensation. This feeling was familiar. A catcher had gotten him.

Snake's body was ejected out of the tingly force field. He looked around to see that the catcher had brought him back to the asphalt-covered rooftop. He looked back at his arm. The glowing blue numerals read 0% again. He clenched his first angrily. Across from him, over the free-floating gondola, another catcher came spinning in and ejected out the blue-haired King.

"Alright you ugly toad! If you wanna fight, I'll give you a fight!" Snake yelled.

Snake ran and jumped off from his rooftop. Bowser had Wolf by the throat and was dangling him over the gully, laughing loudly. The giant koopa barely had time to look up before Snake planted a super-powered flying boot to his face. Bowser tipped backwards and dropped Wolf. Snake rolled onto his feet.

"Why you-!"

Snake charged and punched Bowser in his scaly face with a powerful right hook. Then a left hook, then another right hook and then a boot deep in his fat gut.


Back in the Fighter's Bay, Samus and Captain Falcon were watching the match on the screens.

"Boy, Snake sure is violent." The Captain observed, crossing his arms.

"Bowser keeps targeting him. I think I'd be a little annoyed too." Samus replied.

Falcon looked at her. "A little?"


Snake grabbed a hold of the spiked collar around Bowser's throat. He let out a war cry and hoisted the koopa's entire body over his head and threw him.

Bowser landed on top of his shell. He roared and cursed loudly, pathetically kicking his chubby feet, trying to get back onto them. Snake held out his hand, another rocket launcher materialized. He took aim at the white brick of C4 blinking on the monster's round gut.

"This is for Lucas!" Snake shouted.

Another explosion rattled the rooftop and Snake was engulfed by dark smoke. He couldn't see which direction Bowser's body flew but he had a feeling that he wouldn't be returning without a catcher. The smoke began to dissipate and Wolf appeared. He had been standing to the side of the action the whole time. He whistled loudly.

"That was one hell of a spectacle." Wolf readied his claws again and charged.

A loud horn blared in the air, the same horn that was in the Fighter's Bay. Wolf stumbled, nearly tripping over his own boots. He looked up at the sky. "What? It's over already? I barely had any fun at all!" He grumbled, and put a clawed hand on his hip. He briefly looked at his forearm before he pointed to Snake. "You had all the excitement to yourself, Devil Dog. Next time share some with the rest of the class would 'ya?"

Devil Dog? That was military jargon for a Marine.

Snake heard a small noise and looked at his own forearm. The glowing blue numerals disappeared. Was the match really over already?

The darkness that surrounded the smoggen city began to fade away. The rooftops, gondola and platforms all disappeared, shrinking back down into nothing and reforming into the plain gray platforms. The colorful crowd and their intense cheering filled the air again. Snake was blinded by the bright lights of the stadium.

He looked up to the giant screens above the archways to see his name and a picture of his growly face on the jumbotron with the words "WINNER" in big colorful letters. He'd won? The numerals on the bottoms of the other four screens each had a different sequence of digits. Snake noticed his were higher than the others. Those numbers must be their points. He had scored over thirty four thousand.

The glass doors of the archways parted and the caddies flew out. A caddie with the same yellow alloy stopped next to him. "Congratulations Mr. Snake!" He said excitedly. Snake thanked the alloy and grabbed a hold of the thin railing.

"Hey!"

Snake looked to whoever called to him. It was Wolf. He had one foot on his own caddie.

"What's your name?"

"Solid Snake."

Wolf grinned. "Heh. You're an interesting guy. I hope the next time we have a match, you and I have more time to dance."

Snake smirked back at him and boarded his caddie.

Back inside the Bay, the screen between the archways detailed what earned them each of their points. Apparently that big explosion at the end earned him a lot, as well as his earlier escapade with that pink creature and taking Bowser out at the same time. That propelled him to first place. Marth came in a very close second and Wolf in third. Bowser came in dead last.

Snake was greeted by a clapping Captain Falcon. Marth was with him too. "That was explosive! Congrats on wining your first match!" The man grinned.

"Thanks."

"I wasn't able to join in the fight at the end. Seems you were taking care of Bowser all by yourself." Marth said. Snake looked at him.

There was a loud roar. He, Falcon and Marth all turned to see Bowser shaking his fist. "You may have won this time! But only because I let you win, Scruffy!"

"Yeah yeah, bet you let me blast you into the abyss too." Snake taunted.

"Quit complaining." Wolf growled, appearing in between them. "You got 'whupped. Now take it like a man."

"Why you mutt-!"

Someone cleared their throat. It was then that Snake saw the pink-clad princess standing next to Bowser.

"He makes a habit out of kidnapping one of the other competitors, that Princess Peach, pretty frequently."

"Kidnapping? Must be traumatizing for her to see him here. That glove really is inhuman."

Snake's eyes widened. What the hell was she doing here?

Bowser turned around to face her and he seemed to freeze. The princess shot him a disapproving look, putting her hands on her hips. "That's quite enough." She said simply.

To Snake's complete surprise, Bowser appeared to shrivel. He huffed and stomped away without another word.

What...the hell was that?

Wolf let out a small chuckle. "'Whupped." He repeated. He walked away too, his boots clinking on the floor.

The princess clicked her way over to them. "I'm sorry about that. You'll have to excuse Bowser, he gets a bit excited sometimes." She said, a smile on her face.

Peach wasn't afraid of the koopa at all. She spoke to him like he was just a nuisance. But...didn't he kidnap her regularly?

"Ah Peach, thank you for your assistance." Marth said, bowing slightly to the woman. Snake was still stunned in confusion and was staring at her. Marth suddenly, and very quickly, grabbed the shoulder strap of his vest and pulled him down into a slight bow.

"Bow to the princess..." He hissed.

This took Snake by surprise. "What happened to no rank among anyone?" Snake hissed back.

Marth gave him a look. Snake grumbled but respectfully lowered his head. This was a bit awkward for him. What Otacon would say if he could see this right now.

"Oh my it was no trouble at all." The princess said, daintily waving her gloved hand.

Marth let go of his shoulder strap and Snake stood back up. It was his turn to shoot Marth a look.

"Snake, have you met Peach yet?" Falcon asked.

"No. I haven't."

She gave him a cheerful smile. "It's wonderful to meet you. I am Peach Toadstool."

"Nice to meet you. You...do you, I mean-" He wanted to ask how could she stand to be anywhere near the thing that caused her so much grief, but that was maybe tasteless coming from a complete stranger. "...How did you get Bowser to just calm down like that?"

Peach put a hand over her mouth and laughed daintily.


A few feet away, Samus watched the Snake speaking with the princess. Her scan visor chirped. A notification came up on the HUD, focused on the core of the soldier; it read: -ANOMALIES DETECTED-

Anomalies? Samus went through her scan modes, getting no clear readings until the X-ray scanner. She'd half expected her visor to reveal parts of the man to be prosthetic, but to her surprise, Snake had a complete skeleton from head to toe. The HUD locked onto two small devices, one in his ear and another in the base of his skull. Readings indicated these were parts of a two-way radio system. Not surprising. Soldiers in the Federation had this same type of internal radio too.

But there was something else, the scanner picked up a flurry of white spots that were circling around his entire body. The visor had trouble locking on, and it was no wonder, whatever these things where, they were tiny and moving at incredible speeds. Of course! These things were in his blood!

She zoomed in the HUD and it was finally able to lock onto several microscopic devices. Results came back as some type of nanite machine. Also not surprising. The Federation dabbled in all kinds of technology, including a microscopic device that went into the blood of a Federation soldier and helped to make them almost superhuman from the inside out. That would explain Snake's reflexes and skills. Though, the signals emitting from the nanites were extremely weak.

The man started to walk away. Her scanner detected an active radio signal pinging his internal radio. He put a hand to his neck and the signal connected. Suddenly, the visor went off once more, this time with a new reading: -SEMI DORMANT VIRUS DETECTED-

Huh?

"Hellooo!"

Samus felt a tapping on her helmet, which startled her. Her X-ray scan and all the readings disappeared. She looked to her left to see Peach. The princess jerked her hand away.

"I'm sorry! Did I scare you?"

"Oh, n-no." She stuttered. "Sorry Peach, what is it?"

Peach snickered, "The alloys are calling for you. It's time for your match. You really zoned out there. What where you looking at?" Peach gazed in the direction Samus had been looking.

"Nothing." She lied. Peach didn't say anything else or press the issue further, she just turned back to her with a small smile on her face. Snake was too far out of the visor's range for any further scanning. What was that reading?

Chapter Text

 

Snake only had one match scheduled for the entire week, and now that it was over, he had nothing else to do. He hadn't received another email from the Staff advising of what day his next match would take place either.

He sat back on his couch, nursing his sore back. Turns out dead-lifting Bowser over his head in an adrenaline-fueled rampage wasn't exactly the smartest idea. The koopa had to weight at least five hundred pounds. Snake couldn't recall ever being able to bench-press that much. Maybe he wasn't as old as he thought.

But his small moment of self-pride was quickly dashed when he remembered that he also couldn't long jump from rooftop to rooftop like he did yesterday. Guess the Grid enhanced more than just jumping abilities.

He had to take it easy today. He'd had too much down time in Bermuda when Philanthropy's missions began drying up. He wasn't exactly able go outside too much. That, and Chief had starting to not function like she used to. Sometimes she couldn't jump on the bed or on the couch. Sometimes she'd stumble when she walked. And sometimes she just lay down all day, not wanting to move. He needed to start watching her. She was getting on in her years.

Snake wasn't able to exercise today either. He'd just hurt his back more, so he'd decided to take the day off. He'd continue his workout tomorrow. After all, he'd earned it after winning his very first match. Snake could watch the tournament on TV and check out everyone else's fighting styles.

There was a knock at his front door. Must be the delivery alloy with his food. Snake called out that he was coming and carefully hoisted himself off the couch. He'd ordered an extra big breakfast from the Cafeteria, another treat to himself for winning. Steak, an extra helping of eggs, sausage, bacon, hash browns and a couple of pancakes too. He also ordered a large coffee. He thought maybe the coffee brewed in the Cafeteria would taste better that the packets that came pre-stocked in his apartment. He opened the door and a cold breeze from outside blew in. Snake shivered. An orange alloy stood on his porch, holding a big brown paper bag in it's orb-hands.

"Your breakfast order Mr. Snake? That'll be 30 GCs."

"Huh, only thirty?" Snake said, briefly rubbing his hands together for warmth before reaching into his back pocket for his card.

"Apologies sir, we've started charging for delivery now since the tournament has begun." The alloy replied.

"No I'm not complaining. It just seems...so cheap, even with the delivery charge included." Snake did remember that purple alloy mentioning the charge during his first night on the island. His terminal notified him that he'd won one hundred and twenty thousand GCs for his match yesterday. Just for the first match! He had plenty of money.

Snake took the bag from the alloy and handed it his black card. The alloy took a small black box it had tucked underneath it's arm and swiped his card with it. Snake took notice of very small ice crystals that were starting to form on the alloy's arms and body. He could see his own breath when he breathed out in the cold air, but nothing came out of the alloy. Not even from the bright core that was it's abdomen. It was still hard to think about the fact that alloys couldn't feel the cold. He wondered if any one of them iced up to the point it couldn't move.

"Thank you very much. Please enjoy your meal." The alloy said, handing him back his card. It turned around to walk away but then stopped, and turned back to him briefly, "Oh, and congratulations on winning your first match. Boy I cheered a lot when you really gave it to Bowser at the end!"

"Oh, thanks." Snake grinned. He pocketed his card and closed the door behind him.

Back on his couch, he set the brown paper bag on the coffee table and laid all the containers out, including the big cup of coffee. He took the lid off, blew on it a couple of times, eagerly took one sip and...groaned. It tasted the same as the packets. Like crap! He sighed in defeat. He would have brought some coffee from home if he knew how bad it was here. He didn't want to have to add sugar or other flavorings just to make it taste decent. He liked his coffee black. His breakfast at least smelled heavenly. He took a bite of his eggs and sausage and savored the flavor.

There were seven matches scheduled everyday, starting from nine in the morning and they didn't have a set time to end, because, depending on if a match was stocked and not timed, it could go on for a while.

The second match was about to begin. Snake had watched the first one before this. It was a team battle between the older Link and some blue bird anthromorph, against a diminutive creature who appeared to just be a head with arms and legs, like Kirby. He wore a metal mask and had a billowy cape that allowed him to fly. The armored-thing's partner was a strange black and white person, who was flat like a sheet of paper and moved in a stiff, blocky manner. Link was a master swordsman like Marth, but he just didn't have the speed that the armored-thing did. That, and the bird-guy was not a team player by any means. Their team was defeated easily.

The commentator on TV said the second match was going to be a timed, four way Free-For-All. They announced the competitors - a brown-haired kid who was dressed in a Greek-style toga and wore a golden leaf crown upon his head, named Pit. A regally dressed, brown haired woman with a golden tiara and pointed elf ears named Zelda, who was also a princess. A very pretty princess at that, Snake thought. The olive-skinned giant Ganondorf and-

"Ness?!" He blurted, nearly choking on his food.

The child's face with his small eyes and red ball cap showed on the screen.

The child hadn't been lying to him. He actually was a contestant! Snake grimaced. He put down his breakfast and sat on the edge of his couch. Ness didn't stand a chance against the giant. He would crush the child. How could they allow kids to fight?

The camera panned around the inside of the stadium, showcasing the rainbow colored crowd. The caddies carrying all three fighters came floating out of the archways and the entire crowd began to boo loudly. Ganondorf was riding his caddie alone. His attending alloy had probably refused to ride with him. It couldn't fit on there anyway, the man took up the whole thing by himself. The commentator said very passive-aggressive sounding things about him. None of his nice words had any meaning behind them. The princess stood regally, with her gloved hands folded in front of her. The picture switched to an up close shot of her face. Snake could see the faintest trace of a grim and worried look on her delicate features. The toga-dressed kid was trying to wave to the crowd but eventually stopped and looked around in confusion as to the negative reactions. Snake tilted his head at the white wings on his back. Were those real? Ness stood with his hands on his little hips. He had a confident smile on his face. He didn't look worried at all.

Everyone was dropped off on the blank stage. Ganondorf was on the lowest level. Across from him was Pit. Zelda and Ness were on the two platforms above them. The commentator announced the purpose of the projectors as they rose up from below and surrounded the entire stage. Dark smoke billowed out from them and spread. It soon engulfed the fighters and the platform. Some cameras floated into the frame and disappeared into the black smoke.

"And now, we'll switch over to the inside cameras to watch." The commentator said. The image on the TV changed.

The gray morning light from the overcast sky may have been shining through the windows of Snake's living room but it was night time where the competitors were now. The sky was dark with a light covering of clouds that was illuminated by a twinkling super cluster of galaxies. Their stage was a giant chunk of rock that free-floated in the air. Ganondorf and Pit where standing on white stone floors. Zelda and Ness's platforms were made of a dark metal and were moving in place. In the background there was a large stone pedestal, and around it were Greek-style stone columns. They were all broken and sticking out of the ground at awkward angles. Other pieces of what appeared to be walls and stone detailing littered the area in chunks, which were also broken and chipped. It looked like this segment of rock had been ripped straight from the ground. The stone columns looked like they'd been apart of some sort of temple. A graphic on the screen said the place was called 'Spear Pillar.'

There were no more boos or cheering from the crowd. Everything was quiet. The camera angle changed to show up close shots of the individual fighters. Ness was swinging his arms playfully. Zelda still had her eyebrows pressed together in a look of concern. Ganondorf appeared to be staring up at the princess with a smirk on his face. And Pit was jumping side to side in excitement.

"Oh boy! My first match! I'm so nervous, but then, I'm so ready! I hope Lady Palutena is watching. I'm going to make her proud. Just remember, don't to loose your pants this time." He said to himself.

Snake had no idea the camera could zoom in so close and pick up that much audio from the fighters. This kid would be quite embarrassed to know what he just said was heard by everyone who was watching on the whole island. No wait, make that everyone who was watching in the whole universe. He frowned to think about what the cameras might have picked up from him during his match.

The camera switched again to show the counter that floated up from the darkness. The lights lit up red, yellow and then green. The starting siren blared.

Pit twirled his two golden short-swords in hand. He pointed one to Ganondorf. "I hope you're ready big guy!" He said and went running towards him. The giant lifted one arm, and with one mighty swing, he drove his fist into the winged kid's back and smashed him into the ground. The kid's eyes went wide and both of his swords flew out of his hands. The ground cracked beneath him. Ganondorf grabbed the kid by his hair and lifted him high into the air. Pit cried out and kicked his legs.

The camera picked up the evil man's unsettling laugh. "Pathetic." He taunted. Black energy exploded out of him and the kid went flying across the stage. His damage counter in the corner of the screen rose up to 82%. Snake's jaw dropped.

Only two hits and his counter shot up that high? Those were powerful strikes.

The giant pointed up at Zelda, who was still standing on the platform above. "This place is not your precious Hyrule, princess! The goddesses will not come to your aid here." He said.

Zelda appeared to grimace. Ganondorf jumped, flying towards her. Black energy surrounded his fist and he drove it into her empty spot. The princess had dodged his attack by jumping backwards off the platform in an elegant flip.

The giant was struck in the back by a bolt of lightning. His damage rose, but not by much. He turned around. Ness, still on the other platform, had two index fingers pressed to his temples. Snake just witnessed electricity shoot out of the kid! Ness didn't look the least bit scared and neither was he intimidated by the icy glare Ganondorf was giving him. The giant lifted a hand in his direction. Just then, the winged kid came back, yelling a war cry, both of his swords back in his hands. Pit slashed at Ganondorf who easily side-stepped his attack. He grabbed the kid by one of his white wings, spun around in a circle for velocity, and threw him into Ness. The two collided skulls and both of them were knocked off of the moving metal platform.

The giant hopped down. Zelda had retreated to another part of the stage and was standing near the children. Ganondorf put his hands together, a ball of dark energy forming in between them, and shot it towards the princess. She waved her gloved hand and a ball of fire shot out from her palm. The two orbs collided into an explosion. The giant used this as cover and Zelda was caught off-guard as Ganondorf came rushing through the smoke and drove a huge fist into her gut. She rocketed across the stage, hitting both Ness and Pit and taking them with her as she went sailing off the stage. This guy didn't even hold back fighting against a woman.

Ganondorf scored a huge amount of points for that triple kill. Even the commentator had to congratulate him, though they did it grudgingly. Three catcher rings came spinning into the camera view and ejected the three fighters out, their damage percentage counters in the corner of the screen were all reset to 0%.

Ness was the first to jump down from his platform. He put his fingers to his temples again. "PK...Freeze!" He held out his hands in front of him and massive ice crystals came shooting out. Ganondorf held up his arm to block the attack and it became completely in-cased in ice. Landing down next to Ness, Pit twirled his blades in hand again and connected their ends together. His swords formed a sort of bow. Pit drew his arm back and a glowing arrow appeared between his fingers. He took aim and shot. Ganondorf used his ice in-cased arm to knock the arrow away. It sliced through a few stone columns, the impact had also shattered the ice around his arm. The man held up his other hand and summoned more dark energy.

CRAAAASH!

Suddenly multiple lightning bolts began striking the stone pedestal in loud, deafening crashes. Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch. The lighting clustered up into a bright, shinning light. From that light a giant creature appeared. It stood upright on two massive legs and was colored a beautiful, opalescent white. It had lavender-colored markings striped over it's body. There were huge, translucent jewels embedded into each of the creature's shoulders. It also had small, strange-looking wings that sprouted from it's back. It's eyes were glowing red and it bellowed out a hollow-sounding roar at the fighters.

"It's Palkia! The spatial pokemon has appeared!" The announcer commentated.

"Palkia?" Snake repeated. That thing was a Pokemon?

"Palkia lives in a different dimension and has the power to warp space and create alternate realities. What will Palkia do here?"

"Whoa! What is that thing?" The camera picked up from Pit. He was staring at the creature in awe, holding his bow up in defense in case the creature decided to attack. Ganondorf struck Pit in the side of his head with a fully powered kick. His damage wasn't that high, but Pit was flying too fast to recover quickly. He skidded across the stage and fell.

"What a cheap shot." Snake spat.

The cameras captured Pit landing hard on a second level to the floating rock. Pit sat up and rubbed the side of his head. "Ouch, ouch ouch! Man, that big guy is really strong. I'm not sure I can beat him." He said to himself.

The camera switched back to the top level where the other fighters were engaged in combat. Ganondorf was trading blows with both Zelda and Ness. The princess was able to avoid most of his punches while Ness was taking all of them. Ganondorf was brushing off all Zelda's magic-filled strikes, including every fireball she threw at him. The princess chopped and kicked at the evil man when he got too close to her. She wasn't just swinging wildly either, her physical attacks were direct and precise. It seems she knew quite a few moves. A high side kick from the princess revealed that she wore boots and pants underneath her skirt. Ness was launching more lightning bolts and ice blasts but they barely touched the man.

Pit appeared back on the stage from the opposite side he'd fallen off from. He was holding a white ball in his hand. "Take this!" He called out and threw the object towards the group.

Thanks to Pit's clever tactic of announcing his attack, Ganondorf saw the incoming object and grabbed Zelda by the arm. He roughly shoved the princess in the ball's path. But Zelda was suddenly lifted into the air by an invisible force. The ball hit Ganondorf instead.

The stage shook violently for a second and the giant was now buried up to his chest in the ground. Pieces of the broken stone floor lie around him. He struggled to free himself, cursing loudly. Zelda landed softly on the ground next to Ness, who had his fingers to his temples again.

The commentator clarified the object Pit had thrown was something called a "pitfall." This object buried whoever it hit deep into the ground and immobilized them for a short time. It was one of those 'items' the Grid dropped to help competitors in matches.

This was everyone's chance to strike. Pit broke his bow apart into the two short swords and charged. Zelda flicked her wrist and it glowed with a shimmering light. Ness held up his hand, small flames emitting from his fingertips.

There was a loud, ear-piercing roar. The opalescent Pokemon, who had been milling around in the background doing nothing until now, was letting out another loud cry. It's eyes were glowing red again. The stage suddenly flipped completely upside down.

No one fell from it's surface though, not even the Pokemon. There were all still firmly on the ground, but something was not quite right.

Pit started to run backwards, away from Ganondorf instead of towards him. Pit yelled out in confusion and tripped over his own feet. Zelda turned around and stuck Ness with her fully powered-up chop instead. And because his damage was so high from Ganondorf's earlier assault, Ness was launched from the stage with zero chance of recovery. Zelda looked horrified at what she'd done. Pit squirmed on the ground. They both seemed uncoordinated and confused.

"Wh-what is this?" Zelda said, turning around in a circle.

"What's happening? My body isn't doing what I'm telling it! Someone help me! I feel like I'm backwards!" Pit panicked.

"It seems Palkia has reversed the fighters movements!" The commentator explained. "If they think about walking forward, they will go backwards! If they try to lift their right arm, the left will react instead! How will the competitors deal with this?"

"They've been reversed...?" Snake repeated.

Ganondorf, struggling the entire time, finally broke loose. He tore the entire ground apart and it fell into the cavern-like second level below. Or...what is above now?

He was able to jump up from the second level and land two huge blows to both Pit and Zelda. Again they flew from the stage. Ganondorf didn't appear to be affected as much as the others. He was able to move fairly easily. That was about five kills total from the man now. His points were insanely high and the match wasn't even over yet. Ganondorf triumphantly laughed his evil laugh.

A catcher came back and out came Ness. The child stumbled backwards off of the top platform and fell down to the stone flooring below. Ness struggled but was unable to get to his feet. For the first time the kid looked nervous as Ganondorf slowly approached him. Ness was an easy target like this. A bead of sweat trickled down Snake's face as he watched. The kid was alone and unable to defend himself. Snake wasn't sure he could watch was going to happen next.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!

Suddenly there were multiple explosions. Smoke covered the stage from end to end. Ganondorf shielded himself from the blasts. Snake saw his damage percentage counter in the corner rise up to 101%. What happened?

The giant angrily blew away the black smoke with his dark power. From the dissipating fumes emerged another person. A blond haired, dark skinned man, his face was obscured by a white cloth that was wrapped around his neck and shoulders. He wore a skin-hugging suit with a red eye and tear drop emblazoned on his chest. He stood in front of Ness.

"It's the ninja Shiek!" The announcer said.

"A...ninja?" Snake parroted. Was there a fifth fighter now? Was that even allowed? Snake didn't remember hearing anything about that in the tournament rules. What this man another item?

Ganondorf looked at this mysterious new stranger and scoffed. He held out his hand to the ninja in a "come here" motion. "Whatever tricks you think you have are not enough. You will not beat me again. Especially not with the tactics of the extinct!"

Another catcher came back and out dropped Pit. With slight difficulty, the ninja held up his arm and threw something at the giant. Ganondorf knocked the objects away with his bare hand, though it still caused him minimal damage. The camera zoomed in to show the ninja had thrown thin needles at him. They wouldn't have been able to cut the man. Nothing could cut flesh under the Grid.

The pearly pokemon roared another hallow cry. The ninja kept his eyes on the giant across from him, as did Ness, in-case he tried for another cheat shot. There was another bright flash and the huge Pokemon disappeared. The pedestal was empty again. The stage rumbled and it flipped right side up again.

The ninja attacked swiftly. He ran up to Ganondorf with amazing speed and jumped high into the air. He twisted his body around and performed a flying downward axe kick. The man blocked the attack with his arm again. He made a grab for the man's thin ankle but the ninja planted his other foot in Ganon's face and jumped off of him. Ganondorf growled angrily at this affront and went after the ninja. He smashed his fist into the ground the ninja had been a second ago.

Pit jumped down next to Ness. "Who is that guy?" He asked the child. But Ness didn't answer him. He just stared straight ahead at the fight in front of them. He ignored Pit and charged into the fight too. More electricity shot out from the boy and Ganon was struck in the back again. He whirled around and the ninja was able to plant a powered kick into his side. He managed to knock the giant off his feet.

This wasn't an item, this man was a fighter. But who was he? And where did he come from? And where was the princess? She had not been returned by a catcher. Snake looked at the timer counting down in the upper corner of the screen. The match wasn't stocked...right?

The camera angle changed from the three person brawl to Pit, who stood in his spot, watching the fight. The commentator speculated if the kid was nervous or unsure if he could win, being so far behind in points. But Snake saw something different in his expression. Confusion, mixed with a subtle realization. What was the kid thinking? And why was he just standing there?

Snake could still recall the secret meeting almost two months ago, where a he heard the voice of a woman describe a winged boy as a potential ally, possibly the most viable one out of all the new arrivals. Had Pit not already joined their group? Did they not yet approach him? Snake thought he had been ganging up on Ganondorf the whole time, like Ness and the princess had been. After all, Pit never took one swing at either of them during the match.

But...if he hadn't joined their group. Then that expression was him realizing it had been a three-on-one fight the whole time.

The dark man was lifted into the air by Ness' telekinesis. His body hung upside down and he was struck with more lighting fast chops by the ninja.

There was another flash of light in the sky. Snake thought that pearly Pokemon was going to appear again for an encore, but instead, the camera panned up to a rainbow colored orb that was floating down softly from the sky.

"It's a smash ball! A smash ball has appeared!" The announcer said excitedly.

Every head shot up. The ninja ceased his assault on Ganondorf and immediately jumped up to the floating platform above. Ness used his kinesis to hurl the giant across the stage and followed suit. Even Pit shook himself out of his daze and went after them both. "No way! That thing's mine!" He called.

The orb floated high above the stage, out of everyone's reach. The ninja threw needles at it but he only knocked the ball away. Ness stuck it with a lightening bolt and there was a loud cracking sound. The orb drifted a bit lower. Pit jumped up in between the two, his wings flapping wildly. "I got it!"

He struck the orb with one of his blades. It visibly cracked, the light within it started to leak out. Pit fell back down to the platform. One more strike and it would break!

But all three of them were blown away by a huge surge of dark energy and Ganondorf appeared in the camera frame. With an evil glint in his black eyes, he curled his fist, jumped up high and smashed the ball into pieces.

Shit. Snake thought.

Ganondorf's body was engulfed by a brilliant, golden light. He started to laugh again. He laughed and laughed and laughed. That light that enveloped him grew brighter and his laughter soon became deeper until it turned into a garbled roaring. Ganon's body began to grow in size. Snake couldn't see what was happening, the light was so blinding. He could only see the outline of the man's body. Was he transforming?

Pit, Ness and the ninja picked themselves up off the floor and looked at the metamorphosis before them with wide eyes. The brilliant light faded and Ganondorf had transformed into a massive beast. The monster had dark colored fur with strange light markings. It had the man's signature red hair in a wild mane that ran from it's forehead down to it's back. Ganondorf had taken on the form of a giant demonic pig. Or, because of the two enormous tusks that protruded from it's mouth, technically he was a warthog.

The commentator was too shocked to utter out a coherent sentence. They struggled to describe Ganon's new form in a flattering way. Snake's mouth hung open.

The giant warthog growled loudly. Pit let out a bewildered scream. The other two turned around and ran away from the creature as fast as they could. Pit stumbled after them, shouting not to leave him behind.

The beast clawed at the ground with it's creepy human-like hands before it lunged at them. The ninja was the first to reach the end of the stage and he jumped down. Snake knew his intention was to take cover in the cavernous second level below. But the beast was too fast. It caught everyone in it's massive tusks and launched them off high into oblivion. Their damage counters on the bottom of the screen all shot up to over 200% with that one hit. Not even the ninja wasn't fast enough to dodge that.

The siren blared and the match was over.

The night sky, drifting clouds and the sparkling galaxy all faded back into darkness. The stone pedestal and columns morphed back into the blank gray colored stage, as did the rock and dirt cavern below. At the same time, the golden light that first surrounded the warthog returned to envelope the beast again. The creature started to shrink down and a human shape was distinguishedable once more. The light disappeared and Ganondorf was back. His intricate braids were neatly in place, weaved into his golden hairpiece.

The smoke receded back into the projectors. The blinding light from the stadium's roof returned as did the crowd's raucous booing. It was even louder and more deafening than before. Graphics came on the screen to show Ganondorf had been declared the unanimous victor. The commentator went over the match's specs, reviewing that Ganondorf had achieved a total of seven K.O.s and was never once knocked out himself. He'd also achieved his ultimate smash, which skyrocketed his points. He'd left the others in the dust. The only other fighter who had a K.O. was the princess Zelda. And that was by accident.

Snake looked at the graphics on the TV. There was pictures of Ness, Pit, Zelda and Ganondorf. But none of a male ninja dressed in blue name Shiek.

But...that couldn't mean...

A single empty caddie floated to the stage. Ganondorf boarded with a smug smirk on his face. Where were the other caddies? And...where were the other fighters for that matter?

The camera followed Ganondorf as he floated across the stadium, the audience still booing him loudly. The caddie floated through the arches and it started to close behind him. The camera switched to an inside view of the Fighter's Bay and the caddie attached itself to the edge of the drop off. The thin railing receded back into the circular footpad and the giant disembarked. He swaggered past a few alloys who shrunk away from him. From the other three arches, three catcher rings floated into the Bay.

Catchers? What were those things doing outside the stadium?

The three rings expanded wide and out dropped Ness, the ninja and Pit, who landed on his face. Pit sat up and cupped his nose carefully. "Aahh...rough landing..." He groaned.

Ness got up too and adjusted his ball cap. He looked disappointed. He shouldn't be. He was strong, just like Falcon had said he was. Ness held his own against Ganondorf, which was no small feat. He should be proud he got third place. Snake only wished he was there to tell him that.

The ninja stood up cooly, brushing off his clothing. He looked at Ness for a moment before closing his red colored eyes and putting his hands together in a sign, intertwining his fingers. A bright, sparkling light flashed, completely whiting out the camera. Just as quickly as it had appeared, the light faded and in the ninja's place stood princess Zelda.

"That was Zelda?! I knew it!" Snake blurted out. The princess was a ninja!

Zelda went up to Ness and patted him on the head. She bent down to his level, took his hands in hers, and said something to him with a gentle smile on her face. The camera didn't pick up their audio, the commentator was too busy talking about the upcoming third match and who was in it. Snake saw Ness nod, his big friendly smile returned on his face. Snake hoped the princess was telling him what he couldn't.

His breakfast was starting to get cold on the coffee table. He had been too engrossed by the match to eat. His codec started ringing in his ear. No doubt Otacon had been watching the match too. He answered.

The veterans were gonna have a hell of a tough time blocking Ganondorf from winning. He was ruthless and powerful. The giant seemed unstoppable.

Chapter Text

Month 2, Day 26

It wasn't until over a week later when Snake finally received another email with the date and time of his next match. It was going to be a Tag Team match and his partner was a competitor named Olimar. Their opponents were to be the young mercenary leader Ike Griel and the bounty huntress Samus Aran.

Snake contacted Otacon as soon as he'd gotten the notification. He had the engineer research his future partner as well.

"Ah ha, I found him."

"Yeah?"

"A tiny spacefarer from the planet Hocotate. Olimar works for a deep space shipping company who, a few years ago, was on the verge of bankruptcy. But with Olimar's efforts the company was saved. He's now it's top employee and a full time treasure hunter."

"A top employee? What's he doing here? Doesn't he have a business to help run?" Snake asked.

"Well, according to his profile he does have a family to support."

"Treasure hunting doesn't pay the bills, huh?"

Otacon chuckled. "Guess not."

"Can you give me more detail on his fighting style? I've only seen one match of his. Is there any thing in the Encyclopedia about those tiny creatures he commands?"

Otacon went quiet. There was mouse clicking in his ear and a faint mumbling - He was reading. "Says here those tiny creatures are called Pikmin. Pikmin are small plants with eyes and limbs whose main strategy is teamwork. Aww, these little guys are adorable."

"Not really the info I need to know..." Snake grumbled.

"Alright, alright. It doesn't say much else so we can only speculate. Olimar's strategy could be a hive or Queen Bee type of tactic. Maybe even a King and pawn thing."

"He stands back in safety and sends the plants to die? That's a bit morbid."

"You'll just have to wait and see tomorrow. Sorry Snake, but I can't provide you with much information. This whole thing isn't exactly a mission and this site isn't exactly the Pentagon. At the very least you know your own fighting style. You've always been able to adapt to the situation."

That was their conversation last night. It was morning now and Snake was re-checking the contents of his gym bag. He was feeling pretty excited at the thought of fighting Samus. But not so excited about teaming up with a partner he'd never met. Or any partner in general.

Snake had stayed behind the day of his first match to watch the woman fight in hers with Falcon and a couple of others. He felt like he'd had a good grip on her style. She was military, as documented in her profile and what she confirmed herself, and she showed a very minor use of CQB when she fought. He'd recognize a motion here and there, but most of it was a street style. She used her cannon about eighty percent of the time. That thing was the real danger. Falcon was incredibly fast and dodged a lot of her attacks, but one good hit from her cannon always sent him flying. Samus won the match that day. She was a bit slow, but that cannon made up for her lack of speed in pure power.

A knock on his front door informed him the shuttle had arrived. Snake stepped hesitantly towards the shuttle parked in the cobble stone street. The last time he rode in one of these, that grotesque blob of a man stunk up the whole damn cabin with his disgusting body odor. What if he was in there again? Snake did know if he could face that stench a second time. He would die.

The red alloy driver waved an orb-hand over a panel and the doors hissed open. Snake could smell the rancid stench immediately last time, but nothing wafted out of the shuttle. Snake cautiously stuck his head in the doorway to peer inside.

The fat mustachioed man was not aboard. The only passenger was Samus, in her powersuit, sitting in the middle of the seats. Her helmet turned in his direction.

"Good morning." She greeted.

He sighed in relief. "Oh, thank God. It's just you."

"Huh?"

"The last shuttle I was in, I had to ride with Wario. I was just...a little paranoid he'd be in here again." Snake clarified.

"O-oh. I see..." She said.

Snake entered the shuttle and sat down across from her. The doors hissed closed and the engines hummed beneath their feet as the vehicle ascended into the air.

"Good morning to you too. You wear that suit right out your door?" He teased.

"It's not a simple costume I can take on and off, you know." Samus replied, pointing to the gym bag in his lap. Her voice was muffled by her helmet.

Snake felt slighted. "Costume? I'll have you know my suit is a very intricate fusion of lightweight armor and specialized fabric. It was made for combat."

"It's still a costume." She said, her tone sounded almost playful.

"...How do you get in and out of that thing anyway?" He asked.

"I jump." was her reply. Snake had to think about it. The suit was about two feet taller than she was, hell, she was taller than him when she was in it. However it opened, she got inside of it somehow.

Snake smirked at the woman. "Smartass."

The cabin gave a little shake as it took off in the air. Snake put his hand on the seats to steady himself. Samus didn't move. Snake thought she resembled a silent sentinel, sitting there. He couldn't see her delicate eyes through the green visor this time. Her helmet had tipped down slightly.

"What branch were you in?" Snake asked.

Her helmet lifted back up to him. The visor seemed to clear and her almond-shaped eyes were visible again. "Branch?"

"You were in your Federations' military right? What branch were you in?" He asked again.

Her tone sounded amused. "Read my profile have you?"

"Along with everybody elses."

Samus was quiet a moment before she answered him. "I spent a few years in the Federation Marines. But I retired early."

"What did your unit do?"

"Search and rescue. We were one of several units in charge of rescuing populations and planets that were devastated by space pirate raids."

Snake scratched his chin, remembering Otacon's explanation of the invaders. They basically operated like locusts, moving from one place to another, ravaging all resources and leaving total destruction in their wake. "Space pirates..." He mumbled to himself.

"What about you? You must have belonged to a special unit to receive a code name." Samus asked.

He shrugged. "Just the Army."

"What about FOXHOUND?" Snake looked at her. Samus made shrugging motion back. "I've also read your profile, Mr. Eco-warrior."

Snake smirked. He sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. "FOXHOUND was a special forces unit that trained soldiers for the kind of secret missions that involved highly classified targets, locations and information. We were trained to survive and operate in the harshest environments, as well as received extensive weapons training and handling."

"The most elite soldier." She commented.

"Why did you leave the Marines?" He asked. Samus didn't respond to him this time. Her helmet turned to the side, as if she were staring at the wall. "Injury?" He prompted.

"...Red tape, actually. I had things to take care of and the Federation stood in the way."

He felt a weight in her answer. Snake nodded his head. "Business not on the up and up, huh? I can respect that."

Her helmet turned towards him again. "What about you? Why did you leave your unit?"

Snake tensed. He knew she would ask him this, since he'd asked her first, but he wasn't ready to answer. "Retired early too."

"Red tape?" She guessed.

Snake rubbed the back of his neck and turned away from her gaze, "...Not really."

Snake fell silent. He distracted himself by looking out of the window and watching the tops of the mountains as the shuttle flew past the range. The snow on the peaks sparkled in the sunlight. For the first time in months, Snake thought about the nightmare he'd had right before receiving his invitation to the tournament. The nightmare with the three beasts.

"An NGO is an interesting line of work." Samus said. Snake looked back to her. "You don't seem like the type who goes around holding protests in foreign countries to counteract nuclear weapons, though. Not the peaceful ones anyway."

He let out a little chuckle. "I don't. I work in a more...direct manner."

"Like?"

"If you want something done, you do it yourself. Like, maybe, you got sick and tired of always arriving in the aftermath of those invasions and decided to take things into your own hands. Maybe take them out first before they get the chance to hurt anyone." Snake answered.

Samus' helmet moved again and she let out a light chuckle. "I see."


The shuttle descended upon the busy Loading Port. Snake was dropped off at the Men's Changing Room to change into his gray sneak suit before entering the Fighter's Bay.

The place was crowded and busy again. There were more competitors here Snake hadn't met but had seen on TV. The blue bird-guy that tagged teamed with Link stood around with another canine anthromorph. He looked like a fox. Link and Princess Peach where also among the people milling about. The princess was looking out of the giant windows, watching the crowd.

Snake glanced at the TV screens on the walls. The graphics detailed the next match was going to be a stocked, four way Free-for-all. The fighters were barely being dropped off at the blank gray stage match was between the little yellow critter Pikachu, the other half of the Mario brothers, Mario Mario, a chimpanzee wearing a red ball cap and small child's t-shirt and Wario.

Snake grimaced at the dirty looking shirt he was wearing with very visible sweat stains underneath the pits. Wario laughed obnoxiously, with his mouth wide open, showcasing his very yellowed and grimy-looking teeth. Snake could smell the man from here and it made him sick. He walked away from the TV.

Snake smelled the food cooking from the breakfast stand, which smelled infinitely better than what he imagined Wario did, but he no longer felt hungry. Someone was squatting in front of the counter, peering at the food selections behind the plexi-glass case. Snake recognized their heavy-looking red cape and head of short blue hair. A claymore sword was strapped to their back. He turned direction and headed toward them.

Snake walked up behind the person. "Hey kid. Long time no see."

Ike Greil looked over his shoulder. He gave a small smile and stood up to greet him. "Hello Snake. It's good to see you again. How have you been?"

"I've been alright. How about yourself?" Snake asked.

"I've been doing good too. I saw your match the other week. Congratulations on your victory." Ike replied.

"Thanks. Congrats on winning your first match too. You're pretty damn good with that sword."

Ike put a hand on the handle of the blade on his back. "Thank you. My father was the one who taught me."

Snake nodded. "Getting some breakfast?"

Ike turned back to the display. "Yes, but I'm still deciding what to get." He squatted down again and peered into the case. "What do you have that's spicy?"

The alloy cashier, who had been patiently standing behind the counter the whole time, answered him. "We don't make our pre-made items spicy. We'd have to cook you up a new one. If you like, our cook can make you some eggs sprinkled with cayenne pepper? Or he can fry you up some jalapeno coins and we can put them on a sandwich for you if you don't want to wait. I think we may have some spicy sausage in the back too."

Ike stood up again. "I've never had a jalapeno. Are they hot?"

The alloy's body language became nervous. "I'm...told that they are. I actually can't tell you how hot a jalapeno is or their flavor. We can't taste food."

Snake looked at the alloy and Ike blinked. "You can't taste food?" They asked at the same time. The alloy shook their round head.

Alloy can't feel temperatures, they have no sense of smell and they can't taste food? What else couldn't they do? What else could they do? Why did Master Hand create such a species, Snake wondered.

Since he had taste buds, he'd answer the question. "A jalapeno is a type of pepper. They're pretty hot, if you eat the seeds." Snake said to Ike.

Ike grinned. "Ok, I'll take some of those then, and I'll have that sandwich right there." He pointed to a hearty sausage breakfast sandwich inside the case.

"Okay, we'll add the jalapenos to the sandwich." The alloy replied.

She took the wrapped up package out of the display and handed it to the cook, telling him to slice up and fry up a jalapeno. The cashier then asked Ike if he'd like anything to drink while the cook got to work. Snake had to take another minute to explain a bottled soda to him. In the end, Ike opted for a juice. He fetched his GC card from a little pouch on his belt. Snake looked at it as Ike handed it to the cashier. His card was quite beat up and scratched. Even the cashier looked it over before swiping it.

Ike had seen his staring. "That's...actually my second one. I lost the first and have no idea where it went. It looked even worse than this one. These card-things are so fragile."

"Maybe you're a little rough with it. That card is important. You should be more careful." Snake suggested.

"That's what Master Hand had said when he gave me my new one." Ike took his card back from the alloy. He flipped it around in his fingers for a moment. "It's hard to believe this little thing can hold so much money. Just how is it possible?"

As much as Snake would have loved to explain how digital money and transactions worked, he just didn't want to. Ike put the card back in his pouch.

"Would you like some breakfast too?" The alloy asked Snake.

He waved her off. "Uh, no thanks..."

Ike glanced at him. "You're not getting breakfast? Have you eaten anything?"

Snake looked at a nearby TV to see Wario body slam the poor chimpanzee, whose eyes popped out of his head. "No. I've lost my appetite."

"You really should eat. You'll have no energy for our fight and you'll only feel sick afterwards," Ike said. There was a mature sternness in his voice, and he looked at Snake with a firm but kind expression. These sounded like the words of a parent. Snake knew then that sometime in his life, Ike's father had said those exact words to him.

Snake put a hand to his stomach and looked at the food behind the display and in the rotating cases on both sides of the counter. He had been hungry before he looked at Wario. Maybe Ike was right, maybe he should eat something.

Snake purchased a large breakfast burrito and a drink for himself.

The cook finished frying the pepper and placed the slices in Ike's sandwich. The cook re-wrapped the sandwich and handed it to the cashier who handed it over to Ike.

The match was still going. There were only two fighters remaining, Mario and Wario, who each had two lives left. Snake avoided looking at the TV any longer so he wouldn't loose the small appetite he was getting back. He and Ike sat in one of the carpeted areas to eat their breakfast. Ike unwrapped his sandwich, sniffed it, then took a bite. He chewed a couple of times before he blew out a puff of air.

"Whoa, these peppers are hot. They taste great!" He said and took another big bite. Snake removed his gloves before he unwrapped his own food and ate.

"You like spicy foods?" He asked, mouth full of food.

"Yeah, it's my favorite. I love any food really, especially meats." Ike took another bite. "You know, a friend of mine once said that the way to my heart would be through my stomach."

"I think that's true for any guy, really." Snake said.

"The food here tastes a lot better that it does back home. We have to boil almost everything before we eat it."

"You can thank good ol' preservatives for that."

"Snake, can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"When you first arrived here, did Master Hand take you to the infirmary?"

"Infirmary? No, he didn't. Did he take you?"

Ike stopped eating and looked at his sandwich thoughtfully. "Yes. I was looked at by a...very strange looking alloy. It was huge and white. It had four arms and didn't even walk on the ground. It was a doctor. He stuck me with a few needles. " Ike rubbed his upper arm, a look of pain on his face. "The doctor said it would prevent me from getting sick here, or from getting others sick."

Snake went for another bite of his food but stopped. He looked at Ike with raised eyebrows. "They vaccinated you?"

"Yeah, that's what they called it. Vaccinations. The doctor said those...shots...contained a medicine that it would help my body build an immunity to all kinds of viruses that could be here, carried in by other competitors, the animals and even the plants. I've been back to the infirmary a couple of times since then."

"You got shots more than once?"

Ike nodded. "I've got to go back again in about three weeks. The doctor will send me a message on that...strange machine in my room." Ike took the last bite of his sandwich, looking distressed. "I hope I don't have to get any more of those vaccinations. I don't think I like needles, Snake."

Snake shook his head. "You and me both kid."

"Have you had shots before?"

"Yeah. Where I come from, children have a regiment of shots throughout their lives. Vaccinations and booster shots. I've already been vaccinated against everything under the sun. That's probably why I wasn't looked at when I got here." Snake took the last bite of his burrito and downed the remainder of his drink. "Huh. Vaccinations..." He said to himself.

A siren blared throughout the Bay, signaling the match had come to an end. Snake and Ike looked at the TV screens. Mario Mario was the victor. He was striking some victorious poses in front of the cheering crowd, who was chanting his name and going wild. Snake got to his feet, crumpling up the foil his burrito was wrapped in and picking up his empty drink bottle. "Come on kid, time for our match."

After dumping their trash, Snake parted from Ike, wishing him luck. Ike nodded and said the same to him. Snake walked up to a short, green alloy who was calling his name. After the alloy greeted Snake, it got to work tapping on the tablet in it's little hands.

Snake was pulling his gloves back on when he heard clunky footsteps. He looked back to see Samus approaching Ike. They started chatting and eventually shook hands. Looked like they were meeting for the first time.

"Is there anything you need to do before the match starts? Bathroom break? Drink?" The green alloy asked him.

"No." Snake replied without looking at them, eyes still on Samus and Ike.

Snake felt a tapping on his leg. The alloy probably didn't hear his response and wanted his attention. Snake looked down to repeat his answer until he saw a tiny person standing at his feet. It was the spacefarer Olimar.

The little man spoke, but Snake couldn't understand anything he'd said, his voice sounded garbled and strangely deep.

Snake stuttered, "Uhh..."

Olimar sighed. He gripped a box attached to the front of his spacesuit and punched it. A light on the box came on and it sounded out a chime.

"Are you Solid Snake?" A voice came out of the gadget. Snake realized it was a translator. He nodded.

"Yeah, that's me. And you must be Olimar."

The tiny man held out his tiny hand in greeting. "Nice to meet you, I'll be your tag partner for today."

Snake had to bend down to one knee to shake his hand. He enclosed the spaceman's entire fist. "Nice to meet you too."

"I watched your first match last week. You're strong and maybe a little violent. Normally I'd be scared of someone like you, but you're just the person I need for a partner! I'm confident we'll win this match today." Olimar clutched both of his fists.

"Violent...?" Snake repeated.

"I'm sorry to interrupt your conversation, but Mr. Olimar, you alloy needs you." Snake's green alloy pointed to another in the next dock, "And Mr. Snake, I'll need you to step into the Pallet Pod please. We need to color your clothing for the match."

Olimar turned to look at his Handler briefly, who motioned for him, then turned back to Snake "Be right back," the box said and Olimar walked away. Snake followed the green alloy to the egg shaped Pod.

He had yet to use this machine or see it being used. During his first visit to the Dome, none of the Palette Pods had been working. The little alloy jumped up to wave an orb-hand over the thing and it came to life. It's egg shape split open and bent outward, like a flower, though the top part of the pod stayed in place. The shell was just wide enough to fit one person.

"Please step up." The alloy said.

Snake took his place on the feet markings. He looked above to see six white colored spheres embedded in the ceiling.

"The appendages are going to spray you with a temporary color. The dye is safe for skin contact but it will still burn your eyes if you move around too much. So hold still." The alloy warned.

The white orbs detached from the ceiling, descending from long robotic arms that had multiple bending joints, each arm a different length. The appendages remained still as they dropped all the way to the floor. Whirring slightly, the arms circled around him, moving back up to the ceiling. It seemed they were scanning him. Once the appendages reached the top of his head, the arms spread out, taking key positions around his body. Small holes opened on the ends of the orbs and out shot some kind of paint. There was a red stain in the middle of his chest. His arms, shoulders and legs were sprayed too, he even felt a cold shot right on his butt. The red stain began to spread, making a slight crackling noise as it did. The curious red dye even spread onto his harness, coloring it and the magazine pouches hooked onto the vest. He watched the dye spread down his arms to the very tips of his gloves.

Snake looked at the new pattern on his suit. It was brick red with black and gray, colored in a camo pattern. The tactical vest, elbow pads, knee pads, gloves and all the straps were colored black. Not a bad look actually. He kind of liked it.

One of the smaller robotic arms lowered again, this time in his face. He looked up at it in time for the arm to spray his bandanna. He jerked his head back. The dye had a strong and foul smell so close to his face. He coughed a couple times, wishing he could have gotten some kind of warning for that. Snake could hear the crackling of the dye spreading more clearly. He grabbed the tassels of his bandanna and pulled it around his head to see. It was a maroon color now.

"Palette coloring is done. Please step down." Snake stepped off the base of the pod and went back to stand in front of his dock. He looked across the room. Ike had just stepped out of his own Pallet Pod and was examining the darker blue of his clothes. Snake also saw Samus' huge armor was colored several shades of blue too.

Olimar approached him again. His spacesuit, previously a dull white color, had been dyed a sleek-looking black and red. "Good luck out there partner. You watch my back and I will watch yours." The box chimed. Olimar held up his fist. Snake had to bend down to bump him. At least the spacefarer seemed like he wouldn't watch out for only himself. Snake felt more confidence in his tiny partner.

Olimar went back to his Dock. Their alloys announced their readiness. One by one, the lights above their arches turned green. The booming voice called out the random stage selection. The arena was picked and the voiced boomed again to step onto their caddies.

The arches parted slowly and the cheers from the audience flooded in. Another loud voice announced their names one by one. Snake looked back up to the four vertical screens side by side to the jumbotron with all of their images on it.

The caddies dropped everyone off at the blank stage. Snake was on the bottom level and Olimar was on the platform above him. Samus stood across from Snake on the other side of the stage and Ike was on the platform above her.

The projectors rose and black smoke began billowing out.

Darkness enclosed them, drowning out the crowd's cheering and the bright stadium lights. Everything went pitch black, except for soft green lights that emitted from Samus' suit. Her visor glowed softly too. Snake could see her easily in the dark.

The sky began to lighten. A yellow sun rose high to illuminate puffy white clouds, miles and miles of green forests and black smoke billowing up from fires raging in the distance.

The stage began to change. Gray colored stone formed beneath Snake's feet. Stone pillars shot up around him, joining with Olimar's platform above. Snake was enclosed in some kind of small chapel.

Ahead, the ground beneath Samus rose up to a slope. To the side of her sprouted a large stone tower that took Ike's platform up higher with it as it rose. A battered red flag with a black crest was mounted to the side of the tower.

On both sides of the stage, as far as the eye could see, stone walls erupted from the ground, with more towers every few hundred feet, the same tattered red flag was mounted at each post. A wind began to blow and Snake could smell gun power and burning wood. They were now standing atop the roof of what looked like a medieval castle. It seemed there was a war raging on around them, though, he couldn't see anyone anywhere.

The counter floated up from below. Snake readied his fists in front of himself. The blue percentage counter appeared on his arm again, set to 0%. Below that, Snake noticed three small notches. He didn't remember those being there before - It must be the counter for their lives. Ahead, Samus slouched, placing a foot forward and putting a hand on her cannon. She relied heavily on it. Snake was sure she'd start the match by firing a projectile at him. He would be ready for it.

The lights on the counter lit up and the starting siren blared. Sure enough, Samus aimed her canon at him and fired. Snake tossed a grenade at the oncoming blast before bringing up his shield. The impact exploded in front of him. Samus would probably use the smoke as cover to ambush him.

Dropping his shield, Snake retreated out of the chapel, jumping up to the red tiled roof above, where Olimar was. He'd just missed a powered shot that ripped through the black smoke and missed his feet.

Ike was already on the rooftop, swinging his sword at the spaceman. Olimar was fast and able to dodge the blade, though, he was panicking the entire time. Olimar spotted Snake and escaped Ike's massive down swing by running in between his legs. Ike looked between them to see where Olimar'd ran off to, which gave Snake an opening.

Ike's back facing him, Snake planted a boot in his spine. Ike stumbled. He turned around and swung at Snake but he ducked. He landed two punches to the kid's chest, tripped his legs out from under him and tossed Ike down below. He landed on top of Samus, who had still been peering inside the chapel. She was knocked off her feet.

Samus pushed Ike off of her and her helmet raised up to Snake on the rooftop. Snake put a thumb to his nose, wiggled his fingers, and stuck his tongue out at her mockingly.

"Nice work!" Olimar said behind him. Snake looked back. Olimar already had a few of those pikmin creatures standing around him. They were colored red, yellow and blue, and one tiny white one with eerie red eyes. They all had tall, single leaf stems that sprouted from their heads and stared at him with unblinking gazes. Snake stared back. Where did those plants come from anyway?

Samus came flying up. Snake was barely able to jump back and dodge her cannon that she smashed into the ground, but he couldn't avoid the powered up blast she shot him with right afterward. Snake flew past Olimar and bounced off the rooftop. He landed on his stomach below.

Snake groaned and picked himself up. He rubbed his face. There was a little bit of anger in that strike. The counter on his forearm had risen to 26%.

He heard the sound of heavy boots clomping in a run. Snake looked up to see Ike right on top of him, sword above his head. Snake flipped onto his back and Ike's claymore slammed into the ground. Snake kicked his leg up high and knocked away Ike's second strike. He used the momentum to jump to his feet. Snake clamped his hands together and attempted to strike Ike, but he jumped away. The young merc leader readied his sword but did not attack. Snake raised his fists in front of him. They began to circle each other.

"Always keep your eyes on your opponent. Even the smallest lapse invites death." Ike said.

"That's good advice." Snake replied.

"My father used to always say those words."

"He was a wise man. He must have been one hell of a swordsman too. But you know, you really should be more aware of your surroundings."

Ike looked down in time to see his foot knock over a motion sensor bomb. It exploded.

Snake covered his face. Black smoke swirled around him. He had placed the motion sensor backwards, facing away from them, so the sensor wouldn't accidentally pick up his movement as well and explode too soon.

But as the smoke cleared, Snake saw a glowing pink bubble. Ike had brought up his shield at the last second. The young merc uncrossed his arms and the shield fell. "This thing really is handy." Ike smirked.

At that moment there was an explosion behind Snake and Olimar's body flew off the stage, a string of pikmin went sailing down with him, screaming little cries of anguish. A loud thump behind signaled Samus' arrival. Snake glanced back at her. She had her cannon pointed at him. Snake's team was, assumably, down one life. And now he was cornered between these two.

"Maybe it's you who needs to consider your surroundings." Ike quipped. He lunged forward and struck Snake hard with the tip of his sword. Snake was knocked back. A blue beam wrapped around his body, pinning his arms to his sides, and he was thrown high into the air, clear across the castle rooftop. Snake landed with a hard thud. The counter on his arm had risen higher. Samus and Ike started approaching him.

There was a small flash of light and in between them a little object clattered onto the floor. It was a red and white colored ball. Snake recognized this object. It was the contraption that the owners in those Pokemon contest shows kept their Pokemon in. He'd seen these balls used a few times in other matches too. Samus, who was in front of Ike, saw the item and made a run for it.

"Oh no you don't!" Snake called.

He jumped up from the ground and ran at the object full speed. Samus reached a hand out for the ball but Snake dived and kicked it out of her reach. It rolled underneath her legs.

"I got it!" He heard Ike's voice call out.

Snake planted both feet on Samus' obtuse chest plate and launched her backwards into Ike. He saw the red and white ball fly out of his hand and into the little clutches of a chain of pikmin, who were holding onto each other by their feet. They were pulled back up to Olimar, who was standing on the chapel rooftop again. He took the ball from the plants and held it up in triumph.

"Throw it!" Snake yelled.

Olimar chucked the ball high into the air. It opened with another flash of light and a gigantic creature appeared. It swooped over the stage, diving down the castle walls and out of sight. A strong wind blew as it passed overhead.

The creature re-emerged, further away, flying over the burning treetops in the background. It was a gigantic white bird, the strangest-looking bird Snake had ever seen. Blue appendages stuck out of it's back, it's tail looked more reptilian than avian and had spikes on the end. It's wings resembled giant hands. The bird let out a shrill cry.

It circled back around towards them. The bird shrieked and started to flap it's massive wings rapidly. A hurricane-like wind swept over the stage. The battered red flag tore off of the tower and blew away. The wind didn't seem to affect Snake, in fact it seemed to go around him. Olimar and his team of pikmin weren't affected either, the pikmin's leaf stems and the little wire atop Olimar's helmet with a blinking red light didn't even flutter. Ike and Samus however were blown right off the rooftop.

The giant bird stopped beating it's wings, glowed with a bright light and vanished.

Olimar jumped down from the chapel roof and toddled towards him, his pikmin following behind. "Nice work." Snake said, offering him a thumbs up. Olimar rubbed the back of his helmet shyly. His pikmin chirped happily, a red one danced in a little circle.

Two catchers came flying in. It expelled Samus on one platform and Ike on the other. They were now both minus one life.

Only two more to go, Snake thought. He faced one way and Olimar faced the other, their fists raised and ready to fight.

Suddenly there was a whistling sound in the air. It started low then grew louder and louder. Snake looked around. "What is-"

"Look out!" Ike cried.

A giant flaming ball crashed into the side of the castle wall, breaking it into pieces. The ground beneath his feet crumbled and the whole roof caved in, taking the chapel and tower with it. Everyone fell down, down, into darkness. Snake bounced off of something and crashed face-down onto a hard surface. Bricks, stone and tile came crashing down around him, landing with loud crashes, though none of the debris came close to hitting him.

Snake groaned. What was with him being flung through the air in these fights?

Snake pushed himself up in time to see Samus and Ike fall from the ceiling too. Ike landed onto an awning on the other side of the room. The swordsman bounced off but managed to cling to the edge of the fabric. His sword clattered onto a stone platform below. Samus, however, missed the platform and landed on the floor with a hard-sounding thud. Snake crawled to the edge of his platform and looked down. Samus was laying face down, spread-eagle, on the floor below. Snake hissed. That had to hurt.

Something fell on his head. Snake looked up, hearing a familiar chirp. It was then he saw Olimar falling right above him. Snake barely jumped up in time to reach out and catch his tiny tag partner. He swayed a little, trying not to fall over the edge, snd regained his footing. In Olimar's arms were the rest of his pikmin.

"Good catch." His translator chimed. The pikmin on the back of Snake's head chirped.

He put Olimar on the ground, along with the blue pikmin on his shoulder. Snake looked at the counter on his arm. The percentage was higher, he'd received some damage from that fall. They all probably did. Snake's knew his was the highest out of everyone's, having taken that beating earlier at the hands of Samus and Ike. One good hit now and he'd be less one life too.

Snake looked at the vast space of their new surroundings. "Where the hell are we?" He asked.

"I'm not much of an expert on interior decor, but it looks like we're in some kind of throne room," Olimar answered, pointing. The room was grand. The walls were stone marble, with multiple floors and balconies at every level, framed by marble pillars that were draped in red cloth and banners. It was one of these banners that Snake and Ike had bounced off of. Suits of armor were placed in front of each pillar along a rich, deep red carpet that expanded the entire hall, leading up to an elevated pedestal of some kind.

"You alright down there?" Snake heard Ike say. He saw Ike peering down the edge of his platform.

"Yeah, I'm fine." Snake heard Samus respond.

"Good." Ike said and readied his sword. He jumped. Snake kicked Olimar out of the way and the spaceman fell off the platform. Ike struck Snake with a powerful swing and Snake was launched into the air. His body hit a marble pillar and ricocheted the other way. He didn't even know where he'd flown off to, only the familiar tingly sensation of a catcher's force field.

Snake was expelled onto the lower platform Ike had been standing on earlier. From here, Snake could see that the higher platform he was one was actually a huge marble statue. The statue was of a semi-naked, muscular man, holding up the platform on his shoulders, the same way Atlas held up the world in Greek myth. The lower platform he was on now was also a giant marble statue of a muscular man holding up the platform, though, it looked less amazing that the other and more like he was just trying to lift something heavy.

Snake jumped down in time to see Olimar deliver a huge kick Samus. He turned around and tossed some pikmin towards Ike. They stuck onto his face. Ike dropped his sword and danced around in a circle, trying to pry them off. Snake was impressed, the little man was holding his own. Samus shot a blue beam at Olimar that wrapped around his little body and Samus threw him across the room. So that's what was wrapped around him earlier. The blue beam retracted back into a device that was strapped to her wrist.

Snake came to the defense of his partner and shouldered her roughly in the side, knocking her down. Samus rolled onto her feet and pointed her cannon at him, firing more shots. Snake dodged them. Samus got to her feet and charged. Snake spun around and kicked his leg as high as he could and cracked her in the helmet.

Ike had freed himself from the two pikmin and threw them off. He picked up his sword. Olimar had jumped back into the fray. Snake tripped Samus' legs and tossed her to the spaceman who punched her straight up into the air with surprising strength. Snake summoned a rocket launcher and fired at her. Samus' body crashed into the marble statue and disappeared somewhere in the darkness of the throne room. The statue visibly cracked.

Snake turned around, ready to take on Ike. But the young merc had disappeared. Where did he go?

Snake spotted him atop the lower platform. Ike held something in his hand. It looked like a display case with a rounded glass dome - the kind you display prized action figures in. Ike had found another item!

Ike held the object up high but...nothing happened. He looked at it. Ike stuck his sword in the ground and tried to pry the lid off the base but it didn't budge.

Snake and Olimar watched the poor kid struggle. "Uhh, kid I think you have to..." Snake called out, pointing to the ground.

"I got it, I got it." Ike responded. Even from here, Snake could see his face turn red with embarrassment. He smashed the glass case onto the floor. There was a loud screeching cry and an ugly green colored creature went straight toward Snake. He yelled out in surprise and the creature latched onto his head and shoulders.

Snake tried to claw the thing off but it's grip on him was too strong. Snake wiggled and writhed but his strength started to leave him. Snake dropped to his knees and, after a moment, the creature let go. It shrieked loudly and disappeared. Snake tried to stand up, but he stumbled. The counter on his arm read 40%. What the hell was that ugly thing? Did it drain all the energy out of him?

"Hey...are you alright?"

Snake looked up. Samus was standing next to him. She had a hand on her cannon but it was pointed away from him. What was she doing?He was the perfect target right now. Why wasn't she attacking him?

"What?" He groaned.

Samus was suddenly knocked away by a headbutt to her gut from Olimar who was then slashed away by Ike.

The four fighters engaged in a brawl. Snake took a lot of hits due to his loss of energy but a well placed C4 bomb sent Ike flying, blowing up the cracked Atlas statue damaged by Samus earlier and taking another life from him. A missile from Samus sent Olimar off too, taking another one of his lives as well. Everyone was down to one stock, one life left. Except for Snake, who still had two.

His energy back, Snake gripped Samus' bulky power suit in a grab from behind. He tripped her leg and slammed her down onto the ground. Her damage caused her to bounce away.

Another bright light flashed. It illuminated the whole room for an instant, which grabbed everyone's attention. A glowing, multicolored orb appeared high in the air, floating down softly.

A Smash Ball!

Ike was on the only remaining platform above. He immediately double jumped to the ball and struck it with his sword.

No! If Ike got the Smash Ball it would be all over for them! The young merc readied for another jump. Thankfully it would take a few more hits to break.

Snake had to find a way to stop him. He spotted the blinking light from the antenna of Olimar's helmet. He was a few feet away, pulling more pikmin from the marble flooring. Snake didn't have time to wonder how he was doing this. He took a firm grasp of the antenna, and with all his strength, he hurled the tiny spaceman high into the sky, the freshly plucked pikmin, clinging to Olimar's spacesuit, went flying with him.

"GET THE BALL!" Snake roared. Ike was readying for another strike, he leaped into the air, sword raised high and-

WHACK!

Snake's throw had been precise, Olimar's helmet smashed Ike's chin and he lost all momentum, the claymore sword flew out of his hands.

Olimar whipped at the smash ball with the pikmin. It cracked again. Suddenly, one of Samus misses came flying out of nowhere and broke the Smash Ball. Snake's grin dropped faster that Ike's body as he hit the floor near him.

Shit!

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Samus enveloped in a glowing, golden light. There was a rumbling noise and the floor began to quake. The giant stone statue rumbled and the tapestries hanging from the pillars shook - some came loose and fell to the floor. What was happening? Was is Samus? She took aim at him with her canon. The marble floor beneath his feet started to crack and crumble. There was no place to take cover from her, they were in a completely open space. Olimar landed on the platform above. Snake made a dive for Ike.

Samus fired. A blinding, bright light erupted from her cannon. The beam was massive and destroyed the last marble statue, disintegrated Olimar and all of his pikmin with it. Snake crossed his arms to bring up his shield, but her blast completely shattered the pink bubble. It stood no chance against the power flowing through her. Snake yelled as he was blasted away.


The floor broke apart again and she fell through, down into darkness and landed smoothly on a hard surface. The impact caused the shoulder gears of her suit to fall off and thud heavily on the floor. The chest plate followed along with the rest of the pieces to her suit. They all clattered to the ground.

She felt immensely lighter but every thunk of her precious armor made her flinch. She was not comfortable when told by the alloys in the computer room that the power of a smash ball may be too much for her armor. They had better not damage or loose a single piece of her precious gift. They promised.

The only pieces of armor left on her body was the helmet on her head and the teal-colored cannon around her arm. Samus tried firing the cannon but it was dead. It wouldn't even click. She placed it on the ground, along with the helmet she removed from her head.

Samus glanced around at her new surroundings. She'd apparently fallen deep underground into a lava filled cavern. Spires of rock and limestone stretched from the high ceiling to the lava lake floor below. Small islands of cooled molten rock dotted the lake. Samus herself was standing on top of a huge, flat rock. This area was even bigger that the throne room. She wiped her brow. It was sweltering in here.

Samus looked around for her tag partner but didn't see him. Where was Ike? He'd had one life left. She didn't see him get knocked out either.

A catcher flew by then. It floated to the other side of the stage and out came Solid Snake, who dropped to the ground. That's right, he one life left too.

Samus un-holstered the Paralyzer gun strapped to her thigh.

Snake's attention was taken by the room. He looked around at the cavernous new setting. "Where the hell are we now?" He said to himself.

"Underground lava pit." She answered.

Snake turned to her. His expression was confused. He was probably wondering about her armor in pieces around her. But then, his expression then changed into a smirk. Just what was he smirking at?

"That was one hell of an attack." He said.

"What happened to Ike?" She asked.

"Stuck a bomb on him last second, before you blew the whole damn place away." Snake waved a hand in a general motion to their surroundings.

Damn it, so she had lost her tag partner. "That wasn't me, it was the Grid." She defended.

"Right..." Snake wiped sweat off the sides of his face, "What happened to your suit?"

"Overload." She answered simply.

"Looks like you and I are the last ones left. Now that that armor's off, this'll get interesting." Snake raised his fists.

"Just because I've lost my suit doesn't mean I'm any less dangerous." She warned.

"Never said that. The best bounty hunter in the galaxy has to have a few tricks up her sleeve right? Like that Pistol there. Purely for self defense?" He observed.

Samus grinned. Expertly, she drew back the chamber of the gun, locking it into an upward position. She pulled the trigger and an electrified beam shot out. She whipped the beam around her, cracking it loudly to intimidate him. "Still stings like any other."

Snake whistled loudly. "That's a hell of a toy. I thought it was a gun."

"It is. But it has other functions. Just one of my many 'tricks.'" She quipped.

Snake grinned too. She saw his hand go down to the gun strapped to his thigh, but draw away. She'd never seen him draw that weapon. He couldn't, could he? Snake stood upright, dropping his fighting stance. Samus became confused. What was he doing?

"You ever learn any CQB?" He asked.

"CQB...?" She repeated. Samus had to search her memory. Close Quarters Battle. She hadn't heard that term since her days in the Federation. "Of course, that's basic training. Every soldier learns it."

"Were you any good?"

She let out a confused grunt. "Why are you asking? Aren't we supposed to be fighting?"

"Ever since I learned you were military, I've been dying to see your hand-to-hand skills. Now that you lost your suit, what say you and I have a little close combat?" Snake asked.

"What?"

"You don't use that gun-whip thing of yours and I don't use any of my explosives. No weapons at all, just our fists. This flat rock would make a nice scene for a final dual. What do you think?"

"What're you playing at?" She asked warily.

"Nothing. Just some good ol' fashioned fisti-cuffs between two soldiers."

"Fisti-cuffs? What does that mean?"

"Uhh, just another word for fighting." Snake scratched his head. "Are we gonna fight with our fists or what?"

Samus considered his offer. Her plasma whip and paralyzer pistol were her greatest weapons outside of her suit, but it was her only weapon. Snake had way more at his disposal. His grenades, that rocket launcher and most importantly that C4 bomb they allowed him to have. No matter a persons damage, once he stuck that to someone it was over. He dominate his first match with his weaponry and that sound beating he gave Bowser. But he was willing to give them all up and put himself at a disadvantage just to fight her barehanded?

"No weapons?" She asked.

"No weapons."

"No tricks?"

"None at all."

Samus clicked the chamber on her paralyzer back into place and holstered the gun. "Alright. I'll agree to your challenge. But know this, the second you pull out any weapon Snake, I'll bring mine out as well, and you'll pay. No tricks." She warned.

Snake got back into his fighting stance, a big grin on his face. "You have my word."

Samus held up her fists. It'd been years since she practiced hand-to-hand. She was rusty, but Snake was slower than she was, she'd have no problem dodging him.

They charged at each other. Samus swung a powered right hook that Snake barely brushed away. He gripped her wrist and elbowed her in the face. Her head flew back. He threw her to the ground. Samus recovered quickly and kicked at his feet. Snake jumped back. Samus got to her feet and threw more punches at him. Snake held his arms up to the sides of his head and blocked them. He struck back. Samus dodged his first two punches but not the third one. She retaliated with an uppercut but he brushed her fist away again. He kicked her leg out from under her, flipped her upside down and tossed her to the ground again. She flew far.

"Watch your feet." He said.

Samus got up. She ran at him full speed. She twisted her body and fully extended her leg out in a powered kick. She hit him and sent him flying back.

Snake got up in a crouch. He grinned at her. "Not bad. You've got great leg length for kicking." He said.


Several billion light miles away, Otacon sat on the couch in his living room, watching the current match on his TV. He put a hand to his face, feeling embarrassed at his friend's bold statement.

"Geez Snake, flirting in the middle of battle, again? You're hopeless." Otacon sighed. Chief groaned next to him on the couch. The rubber toy she held between her teeth fell to the floor.


The more hits they landed on each other the higher their damage rose. Samus started to notice that she'd fly farther and farther away every time he threw her.

"You're leaving yourself too wide open, you need to guard your feet." Snake said.

After being thrown again, Samus got back up and distanced herself from him. She wiped more sweat off her brow.

Damn it, he has me beat, She thought, Why did I agree to his stupid hand-to-hand wager?

Snake waved his hand in a "come here" motion, but Samus stood where she was. "What's wrong?" He called.

"It's clear you have the advantage." She replied.

"But you're much faster than me. You've landed more hits."

"And yet I'm the one flying back..." She grumbled quietly. She looked at the counter on her arm. 131%.

"If you wanna call off the stipulation, I understand." Snake suggested.

"Yeah right!" She huffed. As tempting as the offer was, she could beat him. With her damage so high, if he used even one of his explosives now, she would be finished. Samus slouched a little. She was tired. How long had the match been going on for? Snake looked tired too. He was breathing heavily.

Not waiting for her, Snake charged again. He struck her once, then a second time. She retaliated with a punch to the jaw and he jammed his knee into her gut. She tried to pick up his body over her head but Snake reversed the weight and slammed her on the ground instead.

She was starting to get frustrated. Samus got up again and held out her fists, though a little lower.

"You're getting sloppy. You need to focus." Snake said.

"Why do you keep giving me advice?!" She yelled.

Big mistake. Snake closed the gap between them. He punched her in the chest and kicked her hard. Samus flew back and off the rock, thought she managed to cling to the edge by her fingers. She struggled to pull herself up.

"Because my theory about you was correct." Snake answered, approaching the edge of the rock to look down at her, "You rely too much on that suit of yours. You need to be just as deadly without it."

"That's why I have my paralyzer!" She complained.

"Wrong. That's why you need your paralyzer."

Samus growled. She was too old to be getting lectured. She pulled herself up and swept his legs out from under him with lightening fast speed. Snake fell forward. Samus grabbed hold of his vest as he fell on top of her and catapulted him backwards with her powerful legs. Snake yelled out as he flew off the stage.

Samus breathed out. She did it! She'd beaten him at his own game! She lay on her back on the ground for a moment, catching her breathe before she got back on her feet, dusting off her hands and wiping more sweat from her face. It was a hard fought battle, but finally it was over.

"Told you...I don't need my paralyzer..." She panted.

She heard a whirring sound behind her and Samus turned around in time to see a drone fly up, with Solid Snake dangling from it. Her jaw dropped.

"Surprise." He said. He jumped down and kicked her with full force. Samus rocketed to the other side of the stage and fell. She couldn't even grab the paralyzer on her thigh to grab hold of the ledge with. The heat from the lava lake grew more intense as she fell towards it, she covered her face and the last thing she saw was the force field of a catcher.


The finishing siren blared. Snake was out of breath and wiped more sweat from his face with his forearm. He sat on the ground. That fight took everything out of him.

The heat of the lava started to disappear, as did the cavernous setting. It all reverted to black smoke that receded back into the projectors. The crowd cheered loudly. On the jumbotron were his and Olimar's images with the words WINNER next to it. Snake tiredly raised his fist in triumph. Their points piled up on the screens. All Snake wanted right now was a cold drink of water.

He was the only one left on the stage, so only one caddie departed from the arches, though it was followed by a small flying vehicle. The caddie floated to him, the attending alloy congratulated him on his victory but Snake was half listening. He watched the little vehicle park on the stage, next to the scattered pieces of Samus' armor. Two alloys departed from the vehicle and began to load the pieces into the empty bed of the truck. Snake asked the green alloy if he could get something to drink when they got back to the Bay. He untied the bandanna from around his head, having sweated through it.

As the caddie approached the arch, a green barrier generated in the doorway. The red color of Snake's sneak suit was stripped off when the caddie passed through the barrier. His suit was gray again, including the bandanna in his hand.

Snake stepped off the caddie and the attending alloy hurried away to fetch a drink for him. Snake watched the little vehicle fly into the Bay too, but continue down the hall. Where were they taking her armor? He wondered.

Three catchers come floating into the Bay and hover over the floor. Out came Olimar, Ike and Samus, who was dropped roughly on her butt. She groaned and rubbed her bottom. Snake watched her arch her back in pain. He looked more closely at the odd symbols on her back that gave off a faint pink glow. That blue bodysuit of hers really hugged every curve. Her hair was messy from their fight in that hot place. Snake walked up behind her.

"Need some help?" He asked, offering his hand.

Samus looked up at him. She furrowed her brow and sighed. She looked away but eventually held up a hand for him. He took hold and pulled her to her feet.

"It could use a little polishing, but your hand-to-hand is not bad." He said.

Samus dusted off her backside and narrowed her eyes at him. "What where you trying to do out there?" She asked.

"I wanted to see your CQB. You don't use it often, which is a shame because you have amazing speed. I can't twist my body in the same way you can." Snake answered.

But she didn't believe him. "Were you trying to humiliate me or something? Was this because of what happened in the courtyard?" She questioned.

Snake tilted his head at her. "Of course not. I wanted to see your hand-to-hand. That's all."

Their conversation was interrupted by the little green alloy who returned with a few bottles of water in his orb-hands. Snake reached for a bottle but it was snatched away by Samus.

"Hey! That's mine." He grumbled.

She uncapped the bottle and took a gulping drink.

"It's okay, I brought another one." The alloy said. Snake thanked it and took the other bottle from it's hand. The alloy excused itself and left . Snake took a hearty drink of his own.

Olimar came toddling over then, hooting and cheering with delight. "We did it! We won! I've won my first match!" He celebrated. They both looked down at him. "I'm sorry I couldn't help you in the end partner, but you pulled it off! I hope my family was watching. What would my son think?" He mused to himself.

Snake grinned at him. "Don't sweat it, you were really holding your own out there. You're pretty tough for a little guy." Snake squat down and they bumped fists.

"I bet your son is proud of you, Olimar. You did fight a good fight." Samus said to the Hocotation. Snake turned around and looked at her. Olimar rubbed the back of his helmet shyly, his cheeks turning red. Snake saw Ike approaching.

"Congratulations on your win you two." Ike nodded to both him and Olimar. "I'm sorry I lost us the match back there." He said to Samus.

"Technically, I think it was me that lost it." She sighed.

Snake clapped Ike on the shoulder. "You did great kid. You've got a hell of a mean swing. I think your father would be proud."

Ike nodded, a smile on his face. He gripped Snake by the shoulder. "Thanks. I look forward to our next fight Snake. I won't allow you to win so easily then."

Snake smirked back. "And I'll fight twice as hard." Ike bid them both farewell. He shook Samus' hand again, saying it was nice working with her. He departed. Olimar said his goodbye and left too, still celebrating his victory. The translator on his chest sounded out that he should call his wife.

The both of them alone again, Samus started to glance around the Bay. She looked a little anxious.

"What is it?" Snake asked.

"You didn't happen to see what the alloys did with my suit, did you?" She asked.

"Yeah, they loaded all those pieces onto some kind of cart and took it over there." Snake pointed to the hallway the vehicle went down.

"Oh good." She sounded relieved. "Thank you." She took another drink of water.

"You know, I'm starting to think your social skills aren't as bad as you say they are." Snake said suddenly.

Samus looked at him, confused. "What are you talking about?"

"You seemed pretty chummy with Olimar and Ike. I thought you had difficulty meeting new people." Snake teased.

She narrowed her eyes at him, "What are you trying to say?"

"You never did tell me the real reason you followed me around to the courtyard that day."

Samus put her hands on her hips. "So, that whole hand-to-hand thing WAS about the courtyard, huh?"

"It wasn't revenge or anything like that. You just had one hell of a punch. I wanted to see what else you could do."

Samus eyed him. "...You really just wanted to see my hand-to-hand?"

Snake nodded. "Yep. What happened during the match?"

"What do you mean?"

"When that freaky green creature attacked me, it sucked out all my energy and I couldn't fight off anyone, yet you didn't take advantage of that. Why?"

Samus looked at the water bottle she fiddled with in her hands. "I'm...very familiar with those creatures. The real ones are quite deadly. I just...get a little paranoid around them, that's all."

"The real ones?"

"Yeah, the one in the match was a fake, don't you know? All of the creatures are."

"Even the pokemon?"

"Yes, it's all apart of the Grid. Except for the pikmin, I think."

"Huh." Snake didn't remember the computer room alloys mentioning that on the tour. Guess he wasn't paying as much attention as he thought. He laughed a little. "And here I thought you might have been worried about me."

"I wasn't worried about you at all. That metroid was fake. We were opponents anyway."

"Uh huh. And yet, you still stopped to check on me. I think there's something you like about me."

Samus raised a dark eyebrow at him. "Like about you?"

He smirked at her, putting a hand to his chin. "It's against the rules, but if you ask me out, I just might say yes." He teased.

Samus eyes grew wide and she sputtered out her reply, "What are you-! O-oh please! You're not even my type!"

"What's wrong with me?" Snake asked.


In the background, Princess Peach and Princess Zelda watched Snake and Samus' animated conversation. Zelda noticed that Peach was unusually bouncy and her smile was a little too wide.

"Peach, is there something on your mind?" She decided to ask.

The pink princess didn't answer right away. She thoughtfully put a finger to her chin, her eyes still on Samus. "Zellie, my dear friend, I think Sammys' time has finally come."

"For what exactly?" But Zelda had a feeling she already knew the answer.

The blonde looked back at her, a sparkling gleam in her eyes, "For love of course! I think she has great chemistry with that soldier, don't you?"

"Peach, they barely know each other."

But she was not dissuaded in the slightest, "That's how it always starts out, of course! But over time I just know those two will grow close. Trust my instincts on this Zellie, I am never wrong about love!"

Zelda raised an eyebrow."With your assistance, I assume?"

Peach didn't reply. She just laughed daintily behind her gloved hand. Zelda simply didn't have the heart to stop her friend. Peachs' intuition was pretty spot on about these things and she looked so eager and happy. Maybe she was right, maybe she wasn't, either way she'd have to warn Samus.

 

Chapter Text

 

There was a knock on the front door. Snake quickly took the lit cigarette out of his mouth, smushed it out in an ashtray, and hid that inside a kitchen cabinet. He peeked out the window to see who was at the front door. A van was parked outside in the cobble stone street, it had the graphic 'Dry Cleaners' on the side. Oh good, it was just an alloy. They had no sense of smell, so they couldn't smell the cigarette smoke that clouded his apartment. He opened his front door and stepped outside.

A red alloy greeted him on the front porch. "Hello! Delivery for a Mr. Solid Snake. Your uniform is ready." The alloy held out a long black dress bag to him. Snake took the bag and unzipped it to reveal the gray sneak suit inside.

After his match a couple of days ago, Snake sent the body suit out for a cleaning, having sweated through it after he fought in a sweltering hot cavern full of molten lava pits. The laundry service on the Terminal said they could clean stains out of anything, including suits of armor. Snake had a brief moment of imagining how they would clean that. Samus was the only one with a full suit of armor as far as he knew. He imagined it going through a car wash, being scrubbed clean by auto-rotating scrub brushes, with a hand towel drying and a coat of wax added on at the end. It have him a little laugh. He decided to give the cleaning service a shot, after all, the sneak suit was not something you could toss into a washer and wash it.

The cleaning service did a fantastic job. The stains underneath the armpits and on the chest, and other places, were gone. They had even removed old stains that had been there from way before, stains he couldn't scrub out for the life of him. The suit looked nice and shiny, it even smelled good too.

Clipped to a separate tag around the hanger, was his blue colored bandanna.

"The material was a little tough, but we got all the stains out." The alloy said, a hint of pride in it's voice, "We were extra careful with your bandanna, as instructed. That'll be 28 GCs sir."

Snake handed over his black card and the alloy swiped it in a black box it carried in it's other orb-hand. After the transaction was complete, the alloy bid him goodbye and a happy weekend. It boarded the van and drove up the street, probably to drop off another delivery.

Back inside, Snake took the suit out of the black bag and folded it carefully back into the gym bag, along with the bandanna. He didn't know what to do with the black laundry bag the alloy had left behind. He just hung it up on a empty bar in the closet.

Snake took the ashtray back out of the kitchen cupboard. He straightened the cigarette back out and re-lit it. He plopped back on the couch, putting the ashtray back on the coffee table. He wondered what had happened to the portable ashtray Otacon gave him whenever he'd left home. He misplaced it somewhere.

It was Saturday morning. There were no matches on the weekend so everyone was off. Snake picked up the TV remote and continued his earlier channel surfing. There were no Pokemon Beauty Contests shows today so he was clicking through the seemingly infinite channels on his big screen TV. Snake settled on a show for the most extreme race car competition he'd ever seen.

The vehicles were giant, oddly shaped behemoths that didn't even have tires. The machines hovered off the ground and had boosters similar to jet engines on the back of them. The tracks the vehicles raced on ran up the sides of mountains, looped around in circles, turned upside down and even abruptly ended, sending the vehicles into a tumbling free fall onto the next segment of track. The cars had to be going over 500 mph easy. The breaks to the announcers on their studio said that the races were called G-Zero. One of the commentators was a robot wearing a nice tie.

His codec starting ringing. Snake turned the volume down on the TV before answering.

"Hey Snake, you busy right now?" His friend's voice greeted.

"No, just watching TV. What's up? Is it Smih?" He asked hopefully.

"No, sorry. He still hasn't called. I actually phoned to ask about Chief. Her prescription is staring to run low. So are her treats. Which vet am I supposed to get the refills from?"

Snake relayed the information and directions to the local veterinarian. He gave the name of the doctor and the store were to get the doggy treats with the special pill pockets.

"And make sure you get the lamb flavor, NOT the peach flavor. She will not eat it. Be careful because the packaging is the same color." Snake warned, "Sorry I gotta make you pay for her meds while I'm away."

"No worries, I'll just take it out of your winnings when you come back." Otacon quipped. Snake shook his head in with a small smile.

His terminal chimed. Snake looked over his shoulder at the computer on the desk. He'd received an email.

"Hang on, got something. Might be the date of my next match." Snake said.

He got up from the couch, walked around it, and sat in the chair at the desk. He touched the screen to wake up the Terminal and clicked on the icon to his inbox. To his surprise, it was not an email from the Staff, but from Princess Peach.

"The princess?" He wondered aloud.

"Who?"

"Hold on..."

The text was colored bright pink, which made it a little difficult to read. Snake glanced over the email. It was an invitation to-

"A...tea party?"

"A what? Tea Party?"

The princess had invited him to a small gathering in her apartment later in the day. The email said food and drinks would be provided and that she looked forward to getting to know him. The email was signed with a heart.

If he didn't know any better, he'd think the princess was asking him out on a date. But he did know better, and knew exactly what this was. He scoffed. A tea party? He'd only officially met the princess briefly about a couple of weeks ago, when she calmed Bowser down after the big idiot lost his first match.

"Well what do you know. Princess Peach is inviting me to a luncheon." Snake relayed.

"Oh, that's sounds nice!" Otacon replied.

Snake reprimanded his friend, "Don't be so dense Otacon, you know exactly what this is."

"Oh...that's right."

"Sorry princess, but I'm afraid I'm gonna have to turn down your offer." Snake said, clicking on 'reply' to send a decline back.

"...Well, why not go?"

"What?"

"She's inviting you to an outing. Are you telling me you're really never gonna socialize with anyone, or make any friends over there?" Otacon asked.

Snake rolled his eyes. "She has an ulterior motive for even speaking to me. All of the veterans do. She's probably going to try and to recruit me to their cause there. I have no interest in their ploy."

"Well, why don't you just tell her that?"

"And what do you think happens to people who refuse to join their pact?" Snake sneered, "You really think the veterans are gonna be okay with that? Someone going around knowing their secret? You don't just let someone like that go free. This little pact of theirs can get them all kicked out of the tournament and then there'll be no one left to block Ganondorf and Bowser from winning."

"But the House Rules say they can't threaten you." Otacon argued.

"That didn't stop Bowser."

Otacon didn't give up,"Come on Snake, do you really think they'd do anything to you? They're supposed to be the good guys. Everyone you've met so far has been really nice. What about those two men, Marth and Link? They helped you out. And that kid Ike. You like him."

"They're nice because they see me as a potential ally." Snake reminded him, "And I like Ike because he's not involved with them, he's a good kid."

"Better than them seeing you as a threat, especially with how surly you can come off as." His friend huffed.

Snake grumbled, "I'm not surly. I'll admit their mission is pretty legit but I want no part of it."

"Then why not just tell them that? Be honest and say you know, but you won't stand in their way."

"And you really think they'll just let me go?"

"You won't know until you try. Just go. I'll be you'll have a nice time over there. You really need to get out more."

Snake grumbled again, "You're the last person who needs to tell me that..."

"What's that supposed to mean?"


Snake reached the fork in the road that divided the Men's and Women's side of the Apartment Complexes. Down the street to the right was the road that lead into town. He looked up to the left, at the road that curved behind the mountain. He sighed heavily and trudged up the street.

At the pestering behest of his friend, he'd taken a shower and dressed in a suit. Otacon said he needed to look nice for the lady and not smell like a factory exhaust pipe. What was the nerd talking about? Maybe he did smell like smoke sometimes, but he always looked nice.

Snake'd never been to the Women's side of the mountain before. There were only four apartments along the stone road. The houses looked exactly identical to the men's, in color and size, down to the multi-colored tile roofs and overhangs above the doors. The first house he'd passed had a '1W' on the front door. He was looking for '2W', as directed in the email.

He'd reached the porch of apartment '2W.' This must be the princess' home, the curtains in the window were drawn and colored a dark pink. He groaned.

He held up his hand to knock on the front door but paused. He noticed the house next door appeared to be larger than the others, it had some kind of window-less extra room attached to the side. He could see the number '3W' on the door from here. Why was that house bigger? What was that extra room? He wondered.

Snake breathed in deep and knocked twice on the door. Let's just get this over with, He thought.

There were footsteps on the other side and a feminine voice called out that they were coming. The door opened. Snake expected to see the blonde princess in her frilly pink dress, but instead it was Samus.

She looked just as surprised to see him. "Oh, it's you. Hello Snake."

Her hair was down and it cascaded over one shoulder. She wore a long sleeve shirt that clung around her shoulders and exposed her collar bone. The light from outside hit her eyes and lit up the blue-green pigment of her irises. Snake could see all the detail in them. He almost swooned. She looked beautiful. His eyes went to the beauty mark by her lips.

"Pika pika!"

Snake was taken out of his daydreaming by the yellow Pokemon perched on her other shoulder. Pikachu's big ears were straight up and he was wagging his jagged tail. What was Pikachu doing here? Where they both invited to the tea party?

Snake kept his tone cool. "Hey, I'm here for that...uh...gathering."

"I didn't know Peach invited you too. Come in, we've been waiting for you." Samus replied, opening the door wider for him.

We?

"Pika!" Pikachu held out a paw to him, the same way he did in the forest. Snake had to push down the little tug at his heartstrings. He put a finger to the animal's paw again. "Chu!"

...Cute.

Samus looked at him nonplussed before she gave a sly smile. "Taught you how to shake, did he?"

There was that smile again. He hadn't seen it since that fabled day two months ago. "When an animal offers you their paw, you don't ignore it. It's just rude." He replied.

Oops. He didn't mean to let that slip out. Samus raised a dark eyebrow at him. She stepped aside to let him in.

The first thing Snake noticed as he entered the inner sanctum of the apartment was how everything was pink. Everything. The carpet was pink. The couches and armchairs were all pink with a flowery pattern and had a matching pink ottoman at the feet. The wallpaper was a light pink color. A foldable screen that separated the princess' sleeping area from the rest of the house was colored pink and decorated with more flower patterns. The comforter on her bed, and it's millions of puffy pillows piled on top, were all different shades of pink. The lampshades on the night stands were the same dark pink as the curtains. There was even a long canopy draped over the bed that was a sparkly light pink color. This room looked like it belong to a little girl.

The second thing Snake noticed was the smell of fresh baked goods that permeated the whole apartment. It smelled heavenly.

"Oh Snake, welcome! I'm so glad you came!"

Princess Peach was in the kitchen behind the counter. She stepped around it to greet him. Her hair was tied up in a ponytail and she wore a fluffy pink sweater with matching tights. Her golden crown was still upon her head. Snake glanced around. Marth hadn't been invited to the gathering too, had he? Did he still have to bow to the woman?

He nodded at her instead. "Sure. Thanks for inviting me."

"Please make yourself at home. You can have a seat at the table." Peach motioned to a round table in the center of the apartment, between the sleeping area and the sunken living room. Unlike everything else in the house, it was a normal brown color with matching brown wooden chairs. Though, the table was covered in a crocheted pink tablecloth. The furniture looked like it was cherry wood too. "Now that you're here, we can get started." The princess waved her hand to the room for attention. "Sammy! Zellie! I'll need your help please girls."

Samus appeared next to Snake, with Pikachu in her arms. "Sure Peach, what do you need?" She asked.

"Sammy...?" He muttered to himself.

"I need help taking everything to the table. Oh Snake, have you met Zelda yet?"

Peach motioned behind him, where a brunette haired woman was standing quietly, with her hands folded neatly in front of her. It was the princess who had fought in the match with Ganondorf, the woman who could transform herself into and had the skills of a trained ninja. She wore a regal-looking dress top and a pair of comfy-looking pants. Snake saw she had slippers on her feet, in fact, all the girls did. Her chocolate brown hair was loose around her shoulders and a golden crown adorned her forehead.

Zelda greeted him warmly with a light nod of her head and a polite smile. "It's very nice to meet you, Mr. Snake. I am princess Zelda. I have been watching all your matches. You're quite a strong competitor."

Snake never met the woman, having only seen her on TV. He knew from the Encyclopedia that she was from the same home as the swordsman Link, and apparently, Ganondorf as well. Snake stared at her. She was much prettier in person. He felt his ego boost being complimented by her. He grinned back, "You can just call me Snake. It's nice to meet-"

"Oh wow! You're Snake!"

A young kid suddenly appeared between him and the princess. It was the kid with the white wings and Greek toga, the one who got destroyed in the match with Ganondorf. He grabbed Snake's hand and shook it vigorously. "My name's Pit. It's such an honor to meet you!"

"Uh, thanks." Snake stammered.

"I've been watching all of your matches. You're one of the few who are still undefeated! I can't wait until we have a match together." Pit bubbled. The white wings on his back flapped excitedly and it blew all the girls' hair into their faces. They yelped. "Oops! S-Sorry ladies." He apologized.

The brunette brushed her hair out of her eyes and she smiled at him. "It's alright Pit."

"Pika pika!" Pikachu chittered angrily.

Pit held up his hands to the animal, "Sorry, sorry!" He turned around the face the princesses, "I just got really excited to meet Snake. I also interrupted you guys' conversation, that was rude of me."

Snake took the opportunity to gawk wings on his back. The kid was still wearing the same white toga with sandals and golden laurel crown he'd worn during both of his matches. His shirt was draped loosely around his shoulder blades. Seeing the kid on TV, Snake thought he was just wearing an elaborate costume, but the wings sprouted directly from his back and were completely covered in white feathers. He stared.

Peach airily waved her hand at him, "Oh, don't worry about it at all." She then directed herself to the women, "Come on girls, let's leave the boys to chat while we fetch the food."

Both princess walked around the bar into the kitchen. Samus took a moment to put Pikachu on the floor; she'd scratched his head a couple of times before she followed the women. Snake's gaze went down to her backside as she passed in front of him to go to the kitchen.

"Is there anything I can help with?" Snake offered the women.

"Oh no no! You're a guest." Peach replied.

"What about me? Can I help?" Pit asked.

Peach laughed daintily. She grabbed both of them by their arms and ushered them to the table. "You two just sit down and relax. We girls can handle everything. It's quite warm in here Snake, you can hang up your coat over there."

The princess pointed to a coat tree next to the desk that held her Terminal. He could barely protest before she strutted away and joined the others in the kitchen. Snake and Pit looked at each other. Pit shrugged. Snake removed his trench coat and hung it on the tree with the other jackets - a light sweater, presumably Samus', and an expensive-looking fur coat. Probably Zelda's. The coat tree was made of intricately carved wood, same as the desk. They both looked like oak.

He reluctantly took his seat next to Pit at the table. The places had already been set, the silverware was polished to a glossy sheen and were arranged in a certain order, little forks next to the big forks. The plates, saucers and cups were all white and trimmed with gold. It looked like porcelain. Very expensive porcelain.

Snake grimaced at the cup next to his plate. It was a teacup. Couldn't he just get a regular coffee mug or glass?

The women brought cake after cake and cheesecake after cheesecake to the table. Pit's eyes nearly popped out of his head at the sight of the food. It smelled and looked so good. The cakes were tall and frosted with roses and stars and other fancy designs piped along the edges. The cheesecakes looked like strawberry and chocolate. Another cheesecake had several types of berries piled on top and was drizzled with a fruit glaze. Pikachu was following the girls back and forth from the table to the kitchen, sniffing his nose in the air. He was quite masterful in avoiding their feet.

Samus appeared next to him and set down a plate of what looked like macaroons with tiny fruit pieces on top. He'd caught a whiff of a sweet-smelling scent coming from her.

"Is there anything else you need me to get Peach?" Samus asked the pink princess when she approached the table with a teapot in her hands.

"No that will be it. Thank you Sammy." Peach answered. She set the teapot on a stand in the center of the table. Samus moved to sit down in another chair but Peach grabbed the woman by her shoulders and ushered her into the chair next to him instead. "No no, this is your seat here." The princess said, smiling.

Samus looked puzzled but sat down nonetheless. "Oh...alright." Zelda came to the table and set down a large steaming pot of fresh coffee. It smelled good, it always did, which was a direct contrast to it's horrible flavor.

Snake felt a light pressure on his thigh. He looked down to see Pikachu, standing up on his hind legs, both front paws on him. He gazed up at Snake with lowered ears and pleading eyes. He knew a begging animal when he saw one. He scratched the Pokemon behind his ears.

The princesses took their seats. Pit sat next to Snake, Zelda was next to Pit, Peach was next to Zelda and beside her was Samus. Peach clapped her hands together. "Alright, first I'd like to start off by thanking everyone for coming today. I threw this little get-together so that we could all get acquainted with and get to know each other better."

Snake titled his head at her choice of words but Pit grinned heartily. "Yeah! It's always nice to make new friends."

"For dessert I've made us all chocolate, vanilla and red velvet cake with whipped frosting, the red velvet has a cream cheese frosting, of course. There is also strawberry and turtle cheesecake, and a mixed berry tart."

"You made all this?" Pit asked. The kid was practically salivating. "They look so tasty!"

"I've also brewed us some hazelnut coffee and ginger tea." Peach turned to the brunette next to her, "Zelda, what would you like to drink?"

"Tea please." The brunette answered. Peach stood and grabbed the teapot. Samus stood and reached for the coffee pot. She started to pour herself a cup. Snake stared. She actually drank that disgusting stuff?!

"Snake, how about you? Would you like to drink?" Peach asked him.

He grimaced again. He didn't care for hot tea, but he would rather drink just about anything other than the gross coffee. "I'll take the tea. I...don't really like the coffee." He said.

Samus stopped mid pour and looked at him. "Don't tell me you've been drinking the coffee the alloys make...have you?"

Snake looked back at her. "Yeah. You haven't?"

She scrunched her pretty face, "No way, it's so terrible! It tastes like burnt motor oil."

He was confused, "But...then what do you have there?"

Samus held up the coffee pot. "This is from one of the visiting merchants in the Port Town. It tastes much better than the alloy's. Would you like some?"

The Port Town? Snake hadn't been there yet. He remembered Master Hand mentioning the Port Town was a place for intergalactic travelers to sell their goods, and where all the non-alloy guests stayed. Snake eagerly held out his dainty teacup. "Yes please!"

Samus poured a drink for him. She bent over slightly and her hair cascaded over her shoulder. She brushed it back behind her ear with her other hand. Snake sighed, wondering how soft her hair was.

Samus looked at him. "What?"

He froze. Oh crap, she'd heard that! He grappled for an excuse, "I've...uhh...just been drinking such terrible coffee for the last couple of months. It'll be nice to finally have a good cup."

She smiled lightly, "I know what you mean, I went without drinking any coffee for a few months myself. I think I went through withdrawals." She chuckled lightly at her own joke. Samus finished pouring his drink and asked, "Do you want any sugar or creamer?"

"No thanks." He replied. Phew. He'd successfully covered his tracks, and he got a small chuckle from her out of it. Samus put the coffee pot back on it's holder and sat down in her chair. She grabbed a lidded container next to the coffee pot and began to spoon out sugar into her cup.

Snake sniffed the aroma of his drink. The coffee smelled heavenly. He took a careful sip. The hot liquid smoothly cascaded down his throat. He savored the wonderfully bitter flavor. He wasn't a fan of hazelnut, he was more of a Colombian or house brew kind of man, but right now it was the best thing he'd ever tasted. He had to control his groan of delight.

Peach was pouring herself a cup of ginger tea. "Would you like coffee or tea Pit?" She asked the kid next.

"Actually, do you have any milk? I'd really love some." Pit replied.

"Why yes, I have plenty of milk." Peach set down the teapot and got up from her chair. She went back into the kitchen to her fridge. "Have you not been the Port Town yet, Snake? You really should go, there's all kinds of neat shops there. I got the coffee from a placed there called Brewsters."

"It's the best thing I've tasted in months." Snake sighed, taking another careful gulp. If only his cup were bigger!

"The coffee from Mr. Saturn is way better." Samus commented, taking a small sip of her own. She wrinkled her face. "Bitter."

"I like bitter." Snake said to her.

"Well I like mine sweet." Samus spooned more sugar into her cup. She grabbed another container and poured white liquid creamer into her drink. She mixed it together. "Mr. Saturn coffee is more smooth, and more robust, in my opinion."

"Really?" Snake shot her a smirk and leaned on the table towards her, "Maybe one these days you can take me down to Mr. Saturn, so I can see for myself."

Samus stopped mixing her coffee and stared at him.

"That's a great idea! You can show him where Mr. Saturn is, Sammy." Peach called, returning to the table with a semi-full gallon of milk.

Samus looked between him and the princess. She huffed, "I'm sure you're more than capable of finding it yourself." She took the spoon out of her cup and took another sip of her coffee. Heh. It was worth a shot.

Peach poured milk into Pit's cup."You look like a man of the drink, Snake. I'm sorry I don't have anything stronger for you."

Snake shook his head and put the teacup back on the saucer. "Thanks, but I don't drink."

Out of the corner of his eye, he could have sworn he saw Samus glance at him.

"Thanks so much Peach. I'm not really a coffee guy. Lady Palutena says it makes me too jittery." Pit said.

"Pika pika..."

Snake looked back to the Pokemon. Pikachu had his tiny paws on Samus' leg now. His ears were drooped and he looked up at her sadly. Samus smiled at him and pet him again. "Peach can I give Pikachu his food now?" She asked the princess.

"Oh, yes of course."

Samus grabbed the plate with the delicious looking macaroons and placed it on the floor in front of the critter. Pikachu chittered happily and began to chow down. That was food for Pikachu? Snake thought it was a snack for the table. He'd actually been eyeing one of the macaroons to try.

"Now that we have our drinks, would you like a slice of cake or cheesecake Pit?" Peach asked.

"Oh! I've love a slice of both! Chocolate cake and strawberry cheesecake please!" Pit said, eagerly holding out his plate. His wings spread out again but did not flap. Peach happily cut into one cake and then the other, placing a slice of each onto his plate. Samus stood again and cut into the turtle cheesecake for herself.

"Would you like a slice of cake or cheesecake, Snake?" Peach asked him next.

He hesitated. He didn't have much of a sweet tooth, even though the cakes all looked and smelled tasty. When he didn't answer, Samus looked at him and asked, "Are you not going to eat?"

"I'm...not really fond of sweets." He replied.

"But I saw you buy those chocolate wafers."

"Well, yeah, I like those."

"Just try one." She whispered to him.

Snake looked at the expecting princess sitting across from him. He could have sworn she was giving him puppy dog eyes. Guess he shouldn't be rude. "Alright, I'll take the...vanilla cake." He conceded.

Peach cut him a piece and slid it onto his plate. Samus passed Zelda a piece of the turtle cheesecake. Everyone sat down in their chairs and dug in. The princesses both took small bites of their food. Samus took bigger ones. He could appreciate her appetite. Pit however was voracious. He stuffed half the cheesecake into his mouth in the first bite. His eyes sparkled and he declared that it was delicious. His wings flapped a couple times in excitement again, though more carefully.

Snake picked up the bigger fork, not knowing if it was the proper one to use or not, he just picked up the same fork Samus did. He took one bite of the cake. Then another. And another. This was...good. Really good. It was delicious! Snake had already eaten half his cake before he asked for another piece. The chocolate one this time. Peach smiled brightly and cut him a slice of that one.

"Pikaaaa!"

Snake looked down again. Pikachu's beady eyes were sparkling. He stuffed a whole macaroon in his mouth and rubbed his plump cheeks as he chewed, mewing happily. "Pika! Pika! Chuuu!"

"Wow Peach, Pikachu really like his pellets." Samus said, watching the critter as well.

The princess slid a chocolate cake piece onto Snake's plate. "Oh I'm so glad! You know I've been studying Pokemon food and have been trying to perfect a berry recipe. I think I finally go it!"

Snake looked at the princess. "You made his food?" She nodded.

Pit spoke through a mouth full of cake, "You're really good at baking Peach! I wish Lady Palutena was as half as good as you are."

"Who is Palutena?" Samus asked.

Pit swallowed. He clasped his hands together. "Where do I start? Lady Palutena is the greatest goddess there is! She's smart and kind and benevolent. She's always watching over mankind and protecting them against any dark threats. Her cooking isn't that great though." Pit looked around the room, as if this Palutena would suddenly appear. "Please don't tell her I said that..." He whispered.

"I remember you telling me about Palutena. She is the goddess you serve under, right?" Zelda spoke.

"That's right, for many centuries. I wouldn't serve anyone else." Pit stuffed another bite of cake into his mouth.

Snake and Samus both paused. They said the same thing at the same time: "Centuries?"

"Yeah, we angels live for a long time." Pit replied.

"Angel?" Snake repeated. The kid nodded and he scoffed. There's no way this kid was an angel. Angels were supposed to be heavenly messengers, divine and ethereal beings. There's no way an angel could be sitting at the table with them and shoveling cake down his throat. "You sure about that?"

"Well of course. What else would I be?"

Snake shrugged, "I don't know. A harpy, maybe."

Pit puffed up. "Harpies are all girls, and I'm a boy! Besides their wings are on their arms, not their backs. Haven't you ever seen a harpy before?"

"Can't say that I have."

"Well, I may not have a halo, but I've got my wings, right on my back where they're supposed to be." He pointed to them with pride.

"Kinda small aren't they? Can you even fly with those?"

Pit's pride-filled smile dropped. He look at Snake nervously and let out a goofy laugh, "O-of course I can! What a silly question!"

"How old are you Pit?" Samus asked.

The kid put a finger to his chin, "At least a couple of centuries. I...might have lost count." He took a drink of his milk.

"Are you liking it here at the Tournament so far?" Peach asked him next.

Pit's voice became excited. "I love it! It's so nice here. The alloys are all super friendly and the food is delicious. It's great to let loose and have a good ol' throw down with people who aren't trying to kill you for once."

The girls all agreed. Peach turned to him next, "Snake, what about you? Are you enjoying your time here?"

"So far. This place isn't half bad. Definitely not like any I've ever been to." He replied.

"Oh I know! Me and the girls have been coming back here for a while. Samus has been here longer than any of us, though." Peach pointed to her.

"Three year veteran. I remember." Snake grinned at her.

"Whoa, three years?" Pit marveled, "You fought in the other tournaments? Did you ever win?"

Samus sighed, taking a thoughtful sip of her coffee, "Unfortunately not, but I have placed in the finals."

"Samus actually fought in the final two in the first tournament." Zelda added. The princess had bee quiet up till then.

Snake's eyebrows went up. Pit was amazed. "No way! Who were you up against?"

Samus put her cup down. "Mario. Sad to say, he beat me. He ended up loosing to Master Hand, though."

"That guy Mario seems real tough, he's undefeated right now too." Pit said. He sliced himself another piece of cake and put it on his plate. It had to be his fourth one.

Peach clasped her hands together and her cheeks lit up pink, "That's my Mario!" Snake looked across the table at her.

"What about the second tournament? Who won that?" The kid asked again.

Samus put her fork to her lips in thought. "I think it was Marth."

"Really? Marth?" Snake asked.

"Yes, but he also lost to Master Hand."

"So, no one's beat him yet?"

Samus shook her head, "No. Even though he gives the challenger enough power to be his equal, he's still undefeated."

Pit hung his head, "Aww man, that's a real confidence builder. But I've defeated gods in the past. I bet I can take him!"

"You have to win a match first and get enough points to advance to the second round." Snake quipped, taking a sip of his coffee.

Pit laughed nervously again, scratching the back on his head, "I got second place in my last one..." The girls all laughed lightly. Pit asked some more questions, "What where the other tournaments like? Were they anything like this one?"

Samus served herself a slice of the berry tart, "Not by a long shot. They both feel like disasters compared to this one."

"Why disasters?" Snake asked.

"I don't think Master Hand was used to dealing with...living things. He wasn't as familiar with human commodities then as he is now. With the first tournament, the food wasn't that great and the sleeping spaces were a bit poor. He had all of us cooped up in one building. But there was only twelve of us then."

Snake knew that Falcon, Link, Ness and Kirby were all veterans of the first tournament. "Who were the others?"

Samus counted on her fingers, "Well it was me, Fox, Douglas, Kirby, Ness, Link, Mario, Luigi, Jigglypuff, Donkey Kong, Yoshi and Pikachu."

"Pika pi!" The animal chattered from the floor.

"Pikachu?" Snake repeated. So the little critter was a third year. He suspected as much.

"It was a little hard being the only female competitor in the first tournament. But then Peach and Zelda came along." Samus took a bite of the berry tart."Yum! This is delicious Peach."

"I'm so glad you like. And you forgot Jigglypuff. She's a girl too." Peach reminded.

Samus sighed. "I always forget about Jigglypuff."

Snake sighed too, recalling his encounter with the pink creature, and how hard it was to scrub off all the marker from his face afterwards. He'd do anything to forget about her.

"Speaking of, Link told me how he and Marth first met you in the ground housing forest, Snake." Samus said, smirking at him.

Snake froze again. "Uh, he did?"

"Didn't anyone warn you about Jigglypuff?"

Snake didn't want to show just how embarrassed he felt. He shrugged it off. "Falcon did. But so what, there's nothing dangerous about her. All she does is sing you to sleep."

"Jigglypuff sang to you?" Zelda asked. The girls all suddenly burst into laughter. Snake groaned.

"Whose Jigglypuff?" Pit questioned. The women explained the pink, cat-eared Pokemon to him, telling Pit about her ability to sing anyone to sleep, and how she drew on their faces as punishment when they did. Pit apparently hadn't come into contact with her yet. He laughed at Snake too.

"What did she draw on your face?" He giggled. Snake growled in annoyance and sank into his chair.

Zelda waved her hand, "Now now, don't make fun of him. Jigglypuff has gotten to all of us. Especially you Samus. She's sung you to sleep more than once."

Samus stopped laughing and clamped her mouth shut.

"Really?" Snake said, raising an eyebrow to her.

"Oh yeah. Sammy told us everyone practically walked around with permanent marker all over their faces during the first tournament." Peach poked Samus playfully in the arm. "She marked on your face over and over again."

It was Samus' turn to flush red with embarrassment.

"Hah!" Snake laughed at her. "She only got to me once."

Samus crossed her arms. She looked to Snake like she was pouting. "What do you expect? This is the third tournament she's competed in, same as me. Of course we've run into each other a few times. Besides, it's not like she's even dangerous. All she does is sing you to sleep."

Snake still laughed at her and the vision of her with marker all over her face.

"Man, it all sounds like so much fun. I wish I could have been there." Pit commented.

"It was. The first tournament was so relaxed and fun. We didn't have anything to worry about. Just a bunch of friends working towards the same goal, even if it was against each other. But..." Samus looked down at the food on her plate, her expression becoming more somber. "that was before guys like Bowser and Ganondorf showed up. That's when the trouble started."

Pit was about to stab into his cake slice again, but he paused. "I don't know about you guys, but, that Ganondorf guy seems...really evil to me."

"Ganondorf is evil." Zelda replied, "In fact, we're all very concerned about him being here and participating in the Tournament."

Pit looked at her, "But if he's evil, how can he compete here? Master Hand is a god, isn't he? Shouldn't he know the difference between the good guys and bad guys?"

"I'm sure you know there are different types of gods, Pit. They're not always kind and benevolent, like your Palutena."

Snake downed the last bit of his coffee and set the dainty cup on it's saucer. "Why don't we just cut to the chase?" He said aloud. Everyone looked at him. "I know exactly what this is about, why we were both invited out here. Ganging up on others is against the rules, isn't it?"

As he expected, everyone's expressions changed. Peach's tiny eyebrows went up in surprise. Zelda and Samus became rigid. They both narrowed their eyes at him in suspicious looks. Pit glanced back and forth between them, sensing the sudden change in atmosphere. "Huh?"

Samus began to speak, "What're you-"

"I know about your veterans pact. I know that's the reason why any of you have even spoken to me - Link, Marth and Falcon included. And I know that's why you," Snake pointed to her, "were following me that day you punched me in the Courtyard. You weren't trying to greet me, you were gauging me."

"...How did you find out? Who told you?" Samus asked, "Was it Ness?"

Ness? The kid was in on it too? "No. You guys should really hold your secret meetings in more secret places. Cafeterias' got a whole lot of hiding spots." He answered.

Pit was befuddled. "Whose hiding in the cafeteria?" Snake groaned again. This kid was an idiot.

"So you were spying on us?" Samus asked.

"More like I stumbled upon your meeting."

"Hey, come on don't ignore me. What's going on? What are you guys talking about?" Pit bugged.

Snake looked at the kid. "Aren't you paying attention? Don't you know why they invited us here today?"

"I thought we were just having cake and tea and making friends." Pit answered, looking disappointed.

"More like making allies. These women," Snake motioned to the girls around the table, "Along with a majority of the other veterans, banded together to block others from winning."

Pit gasped. "But...that's against the rules, isn't it?"

"Please you must listen," Zelda spoke.

But Snake waved a hand at her. "Let me finish first, your majesty. I know all about your pact and I just want to say, that I don't entirely disagree with it. I've had personal run-ins with both Ganondorf and Bowser myself, though I'm sure you all already know that." He took a glance at Samus, "Bowser is nothing, he's more like a bully just trying to push everyone around. Though, he has the strength to do it. Ganondorf is a different story." Snake looked down at Pikachu on the floor. The Pokemon looked back up at him and twitched it's tail. "I saw him throw off Marth and Link like they were nothing. That dark power he possesses and attacked us with nearly crushed my arm. I didn't stand a chance. That man is evil. One look into his eyes tells you he's a cold blooded murderer. He makes my skin crawl being anywhere near him. The swordsmen also told me what happened during the last tournament."

"What happened during the last tournament?" Pit repeated.

"Apparently, Ganondorf's a bit of a sore loser. He was defeated and went berserk. He killed a lot of the alloys."

Pit gasped. "He killed them?!"

"Ever notice how none of them will go anywhere near him?"

"Yeah...you're right."

"Marth and Link also mentioned that Ganondorf tried to capture one of the other competitors in his rampage. And I'm thinking it was you." Snake pointed a finger across the table to Zelda.

Her expression became resigned. She put her fork down next to her plate and placed her hands in her lap. "It's true." She said simply.

"As I thought. I've watched both of his fights so far, and the one he had with you was particularly vicious. He also kept taunting you about how you won't beat him again. Why?"

Zelda leveled her eyes with his. They had an eerie calmness that almost unnerved him. "You must know already that Ganondorf, Link and I and inextricably connected. We all carry of the divine power of our goddesses inside us." Snake recalled something about that in their profiles on the Encyclopedia. He nodded. "That's why Ganondorf joined. To gain the power he failed to take from us before."

"You've fought Ganondorf in the past?" Pit asked.

"He's been my enemy for many centuries." Zelda answered. Snake furrowed his brow at the brunette. Just how old was this princess? Zelda continued, "Just recently, he covered my home in complete darkness, cursing the land and turning all of the people into evil, twisted creatures. He nearly destroyed my home, but Link and I managed to stop him, with the help of a precious friend. That's why we need you both."

"As you know, the grand prize of the Tournament is Master Hand granting a wish to the one who manages to defeat him. We're all here for our own reasons, of course, but Ganondorf and Bowser are different. They are terrible villains who desire power. If they get their hands on that wish they could gain power utterly unheard of. Master Hand has the ability to cross dimensions and time itself. What do you think they could do with that same power?"

Pit's eyes went wide, "You're not saying..."

Zelda looked at Peach, "They could not only destroy our homes, but devastate your home and your home as well." She pointed to both Snake and Pit, "They would have no boundaries. No barriers. And limitless power."

Pit clenched both fists, his eyebrows pressed together. "My home too..."

"Last year, Ganondorf lost in the Final 8 to Link. He couldn't stand that he no longer had a path to Master Hand's infinite power, so he tried to destroy everything and everyone who prevented his winning. He captured me and tried to force me to use my divine power, along with his, to fight Master Hand and force the god to give up his powers. But Ganondorf was no match. Master Hand defeated him easily and banished him from this world." Zelda closed her eyes, "For some unfathomable reason, Master Hand has allowed the man back, and this time around, knowing how much stronger Master Hand is than him, and how powerful he can potentially become, Ganondorf will stop at nothing to win now."

"That's why we all have to work together so we can stop Ganondorf and Bowser from advancing to the finals. We did it last year, and we have do it again. We're asking you to join us." Samus said, looking at the both of them. "Help us stop them."

"But...if you guys are found out, Master Hand can kick you all out of the Tournament." Pit warned.

"And then no one would stand in their way." Zelda added. The princess put a hand on Pit's shoulder. "Do you remember in our match? How evil he felt?"

The kid nodded. "I've only ever felt evil like that once before. That's why you and Ness kept going after him. I thought the fight was a little one sided. But..."

"We know it's against the rules but we have to protect our world and potentially every other world out there at all cost. Ganondorf is an insatiable evil force. Even more so than Bowser."

Pit looked at his balled fists. "I almost saw Skyworld destroyed once. I don't want to go through that again. If Lady Palutena was here, she'd say to do what was right, even if it broke the rules in order to protect others." Pit looked at the girls with determination in his eyes. "Yeah, I think I will help you. I'll help stop Ganondorf."

The mood in the room lightened immediately, and the women all looked relieved. Peach clapped her hands together. "Oh thank you Pit! And what about you, Snake? Will you join us too?"

Snake however, shook his head and sighed. "I'm sorry. But I'm afraid I'm going to have to turn down your offer."

The good mood in the apartment disappeared as quickly as it had come. Everyone gaped at him, including Pit.

"What?" Samus gasped.

Snake crossed his arms. "Look, I admire what you are all doing, putting yourselves and your wishes on the line to protect the greater good. But I came here for a reason. There's a lot of people counting on me back home. I have to compete and win in order to help them."

"But if Ganondorf wins he could destroy your home." Peach pleaded.

Snake looked at the princess, "And if I lose my home could be destroyed anyway. If I get caught with you guys, I definitely won't be able to help a damn person back home if I get kicked out."

"But we need all the help we can get. Please Snake, say you'll help us." The princess begged.

"I can't."

"Why not?" Samus demanded, her voice raising a little. "You fought with Bowser before. And you've seen Ganondorf's power first hand. You know how bad they both are. Why wouldn't you help us?"

He countered her, "I don't disagree with your pact but I just can't help you. That being said, I won't say anything about your alliance. I'll keep my mouth shut so you guys can carry out your mission unimpeded."

"Oh you will?" Peach asked, sounding hopeful.

Samus however, did believe a word he said and scoffed at him. "I can't exactly take your word, and I definitely don't trust you. I guess we don't have a choice then. If you don't want to join us, Snake, then fine. But we can't just let you go."

Snake looked at her. "What are you saying?"

Samus turned around in her seat to face him, "I'm saying that if you rat us out to Master Hand, if we're found out in any way, we'll tell him you were an accomplice too."

"What?!"

"Hold on," Pit looked between him and Samus, holding his hands up for calm. "I'm sure there's a better way to resolve this. No one has to threaten anybody."

"He's know about the pact, Pit. He can get anyone of us disqualified if he wanted to. It would definitely help his chances of winning." She chided.

"I'm not going do that." Snake contended, his voice rising too.

Samus pointed a finger to him, "It doesn't matter. We have you by the proverbial short hairs."

"I said I wouldn't say anything!" He argued. But Samus merely crossed her arms and glared at him. Snake growled at her. "...Looks like we got ourselves an ol' fashioned Mexican standoff. As long as your secret doesn't get out, I don't go down with the ship. If I join and get caught, it's over. If you guys get caught anyway, you take me down with you. That doesn't sound very fair to me."

"I'm willing to trade that for the trillions of lives out there." Samus said flatly.

Snake wanted to keep arguing, to get it through her thick head that he wouldn't do something so cowardly, but Samus' cold glare told him that arguing would be pointless.

"We're sorry Snake." Zelda said quietly.

He glowered in anger. "...Fine."

Snake pushed his chair back and stood. He went to the coat tree and snatched his jacket from the pegs. It tipped over and fell from his forceful grab, clattering loudly on the floor. He didn't care. He made sure not to stomp on little Pikachu on his way out. The critters' ears went down and he spoke sadly.

"Thank you for the food." He growled before he walked down the pink hallway and slammed the door behind him.


Pit bid the princess goodbye and left, Peach gifting him a couple slices of cheesecake to take home with him. Samus departed with leftovers as well, stating she needed to take Pikachu back to the Ground Housing. Only Peach and Zelda were left in her apartment. The pink princess gave the brunette a few slices of cake in a Tupperware container.

"It's such a shame we couldn't get Snake to join us, isn't it?" Peach sighed, almost sadly.

"We would have gained a strong ally." Zelda agreed.

Peach smiled brightly. "I think step one went well today, don't you?"

"Step one?"

"Of Operation: Star-crossed lovers!"

Zelda pressed her eyebrows together at her friend. "Peach, Samus threatened him with blackmail. We all did."

But Peach didn't seem to hear her. She held up a hand in a peace sign. "Now, for step two!"

Zelda sighed.